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This is simply staggering. Apparently Caroline “veins of” Flint is due to make an announcement which was probably intended, among other aims, to ratchet her Overall Fluffiness Rating back up to “barbed-wire spitting psychopathic ice witch”.

She will soon be announcing a shortlist of UK locations, some of which will be newly developed as “eco-towns”. The idea of these developments – involving the building of tens of thousands of carbon-neutral homes and the creation from scratch of whole new communities and infrastructures – apparently wasn’t news (it was news to the People’s Republic of Mortimer, but that’s because we have never bothered ourselves much about planning laws; everything is perfect here already, you see.) The “news” bit is the publication of (a) the full shortlist, including greenfield and protected sites and (b) if the Observer’s coverage is to be believed, some of the actual developers’ plans which have already been submitted to the government without local consultation.

Assuming, as I must, that this is actually legal, I really do find it hard to credit how anyone could have been so stupid as to believe this approach would work. The country’s first nationwide urban greening scheme – which is to include 40% social housing among its projected build – is now in the absurd position of facing down protest and petition from the likes of local retired headteachers, wildlife funds and other touchy-feely worthies from environmentally-concerned demographics (all right, and the inevitable CPRE) – exactly the sort of people who are supposed to be in favour of This Sort of Thing. The idea of an eco-town is visionary, exciting, a glimpse of a hoped-for future. Who in the name of arse was responsible for steering a course which would render it a looming statist monster-truck crushing local circumstances and opinion in its path?

This breaks my heart. It really does. It could have been a contender. Individual communities are capable of putting themselves to enormous trouble to pursue environmental goals with no state assistance. Yes, nimbyism is always a factor to contend with, but entrusting the grand aims of the project to public care would have worked to disable the kind of sulky powerlessness that is so often the hallmark of the obstreperous nimby. We might even have seen, eventually, the development of regional variation in eco-town planning that would have laid the foundations of healthy experimentation and competition in the future. As it stands, one of the excitement high spots of the story is a nasty whiff of conflict of interest involving a developer and the ubiquitous Blair (is he being cloned somewhere? because he is now associated with many more pies than a normal man has fingers). When statism fails even to promote a cause like this effectively, you wonder how anyone can be so purblind as to not see that it fails altogether.