LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain gave the green light on Thursday to four new towns that will provide 10,000 homes built to strict environmental standards by 2016.
The four sites chosen, all in southern or eastern England, are: Whitehill-Borden in Hampshire, China Clay Community at St Austell in Cornwall, Rackheath in Norfolk and North West Bicester in Oxfordshire.
The so-called "eco-towns" still need planning approval and could face opposition from local groups who fear the developments will blight rural areas.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England had urged the government to scale back the program to just one or two "exemplary schemes."
It said the government should concentrate on refurbishing existing properties, redeveloping derelict brownfield sites and helping bring back into use 800,000 empty homes in England.
Gordon Brown announced his plan to build up to 100,000 homes in five eco-towns shortly after succeeding Tony Blair as prime minister in 2007.
The government whittled 57 applications from local authorities down to a shortlist of 15 in April last year.
The new towns are designed to tackle Britain's housing shortage while minimizing damage to the environment.
Homes will be energy efficient, streets will have charging points for electric cars and children will be able to walk or cycle to the local schools.
The government said it wants 10,000 homes to be built in the four target sites by 2016, and by 2020 to have up to 10 eco-towns completed or under way.
Housing Minister John Healey said the developments would set the standard for every new town and community.
"I recognize that the proposals can raise strong opinions, but climate change threatens us all," he said.
"Our commitment to the eco-towns we are taking steps to meet this challenge and help build more affordable housing."
The opposition Conservatives dismissed the scheme as a "discredited gimmick."
"Underneath the thick layers of greenwash, many of these schemes are unsustainable, unviable and unpopular, but Gordon Brown wants to impose them from Whitehall irrespective of local opinion," said Conservative housing spokesman Grant Schapps.
The government said on Wednesday it would double the share of Britain's electricity generated from low carbon sources by 2020 as part of plans to cut emissions and counter global warming.
Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Paul Casciato