BUDGET CUTS: Healey slams Dearne eco-towns decision

PLANS to turn the Dearne Valley into a trail-blazing, eco-friendly community have suffered a setback after funding for the scheme was slashed in half.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey, who allocated £455,000 to the area’s eco-town budget as housing minister just four months ago, has accused the new coalition Government of being “short-sighted” by cutting the cash available.

The Dearne Valley project will now have just £227,500 of Government support, while new conditions have been placed on the release of the remaining funds.

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Mr Healey spoke out after housing minister Grant Shapps wrote to council leaders and MPs across the country informing them about a 50 per cent cut to the eco-towns budget for 2010-11. No public announcement was made on the move.

“This cut is a short-sighted and backwards step,” Mr Healey said.

“The eco-town plans are being led by local councils and will set new international standards for designing and building green homes and neighbourhoods.

“This Government's spending cut will hit jobs and the new affordable homes needed locally.”

Unlike dedicated eco-town developments, the idea with the Dearne Valley project is to apply the principles of eco-towns to existing communities in Dearne Valley areras such as Brampton-Bierlow, Wath, Swinton and Mexborough.

The team behind the scheme aim to provide a showcase for sustainable living threading through areas governed by three local councils–Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

The three councils and other bodies are drawing up a masterplan for the Dearne Valley as a whole to provide a consistent approach to ensure that the area becomes the lowest carbon community of its type in the country within ten years.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “While there has been a 50 per cent cut in eco-town funding awards for 2010/11, this still provides a good level of start-up funding for these projects in the current circumstances.”