Policy to reality: evaluating the evidence trajectory for English eco-towns
Can evidence reconcile idealized policy formation processes with the messy reality of large-scale sustainable projects? Was the main driver of the UK eco-towns project the national housing need or a local version of sustainability? To answer, this paper traces the progress of the eco-town policy: from a government-funded initiative to start a cohort of new towns, via the first pilot sites, to the delivery of a single eco-town. It maps the national policy intent, which incorporated industry and academic expertise into a strategic policy vision. Then the local interpretation of this generic eco-town definition is reviewed, along with how the authoritative knowledge on innovative eco-planning is distilled into guidance. By revisiting the original eco-town objectives, comparing them with the recently published garden cities prospectus, the limitations for intra-national implementation of national policy frameworks are considered, asking whether any lessons have been incorporated in the current round of policy formation. The success or failure of such policy implementation is found to be more of a socio-political exercise than an empirical or rationalist process. The eco-towns were less an attempt to establish new forms of sustainable habitations than a political attempt to use eco-planning to justify new large-scale housing settlements.