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We need to build pilot eco-towns before rushing ahead with controversial developments like the one proposed at Long Marston in Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

That is the principle conclusion of local MP Peter Luff after a visit to China. He has written to Housing Minister Caroline Flint MP urging her to study the much more careful approach being adopted in the Shanghai area.

In his letter, Peter says,

"You know that I have severe reservations about both the principle of eco-towns (I believe they are too small to be genuinely self-sustaining) and the location of the one proposed for my constituency. However, I can always be persuaded by the facts.

"In this context, I wanted to share with you my recent experience in Shanghai, from where I have just returned on an Industry and Parliament Trust visit. There we met Arup who are the consultants acting on the world's first eco-city and I believe one of only two eco-cities currently being developed by the Chinese authorities.

"The city with which they are involved is Dongtan, sponsored by the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporate (sic). By Chinese standards it is surprisingly small; China's biggest city, Chongqing, is home to about 32 million people, its most vibrant city, Shanghai, has 19 million residents and a small city is typically around 6 million souls. On the other hand, Dongtan will initially be home only to 10,000 people in the demonstrator phase, with a final figure of a modest 80,000 currently planned.

"Apparently it is seen as a pilot for the principles of sustainability and lessons will be learnt from the experience it provides. Arup are doing an amazingly detailed job analysing all the issues that need to be taken into account to achieve genuine sustainability and low carbon dioxide emissions and Dongtan will, as a result, show to China and the world what building an eco-city really involves.

"My suggestion is that the British government would be well advised to learn from this more cautious and detailed approach being adopted by the Chinese. To rush ahead with "up to ten" eco-towns when there are so many reservations being expressed by so many British experts seems more than a little reckless, particularly in the face of such strong local opposition in many areas, including my own.

"I understand that some English communities - perhaps as many as three - have no problem with the proposed locations. This suggests a possible solution to the difficulties you face in progressing the idea.

"Why not proceed with up to three eco-towns as pilots? If they work well, then people like me will have to admit they were wrong. If they work reasonably well, but demonstrate a need for specific issues to be addressed differently, then future towns will be better than would otherwise have been the case. And if they fail then you will not have wasted huge amounts of political capital, public and private sector money and English countryside.

"I do urge you to take a personal interest in the Chinese approach. If your officials confirm my understanding of the facts - as I am sure they will - I hope you will embrace the more careful approach I advocate in this letter. If there is a real danger of building the eco-slums of the future, and you fail to seize this opportunity to avoid a social and environmental disaster, then I am sure you will realise that this government will bear a heavy responsibility indeed"

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