By Tom Warren
BBC News, England
Ten sites will eventually be chosen for 'eco-towns'
Environmental groups have called for a major redesign of England's proposed "eco-towns".
They are meant to set new green standards in house building.
The government hopes they will become a shining example of how to to tackle a chronic housing shortage at the same time as climate change.
But a report by experts scrutinising the plans said some resembled traditional housing estates with green elements "added on".
The Eco-Towns Challenge Panel said one site at Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire risked becoming "commuterville".
This is a concern expressed by many protesters, who have held a number of noisy demonstrations against the new towns.
Household names such as actors Dame Judi Dench and John Nettles and TV presenter Ben Fogle are among thousands of people who have signalled their opposition to some of the proposed developments.
And environmental groups agree the designs, as they currently stand, are not "eco" enough.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), is worried about extra traffic it believes the eco-towns will generate.
Marina Pacheco, from the group, said it would rather see new homes built within existing towns and cities.
'Change in mindset'
"We think there's going to be an awful lot of car journeys involved in these towns because they are going to be commuter-styled towns to major conurbations," Ms Pacheco said.
"It's inevitable because if you are going to be building a town from scratch you can't provide jobs [in the vicinity] for everyone immediately."
Developers behind the schemes need to be more open about their proposals, she said.
The plans have provoked a number of protests
"It's pretty secretive, so unless the company itself has put out any information, there's not a lot to go on. It was a concern we raised right at the beginning.
"What we're getting is a bit of 'green wash', so towns with a few solar panels or wind turbines.
"The more we're looking at the towns, the more depressed we are getting."
The CPRE wants to see "sustainable urban drainage" included at each site. This means incorporating features such as raised grass verges and reed beds to soak up water and help prevent flooding.
It also wants green roofs on houses to soak up rain and provide insulation.
"It's going to require a major change in mindset. Big house builders have got very traditional ideas on numbers of car spaces and street layout and this all needs rethinking."
Friends of the Earth said the government should be focusing on making England's current housing stock more energy-efficient.
Paul de Zylva, of the group, said: "The Government's plans currently contain no minimum standards which the new communities must meet across the board, which means there is no way to ensure they really will be as green as their name implies.
"It's not enough to set a high environmental standard that only applies to new homes in eco-towns.
"The Government is planning more than three million new homes across the UK - all of these must be built to the highest green standards so we can make genuine cuts in carbon emissions from Britain's housing sector."
A Department of Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "We are only interested in taking the best bids forward with the highest environmental standards.
"Next month we will be setting out the tough standards eco-towns must meet and if proposals don't come up to scratch, they won't make it through.
"Some developers clearly need to up their game and the ball is now in their court."