YORK'S controversial Derwenthorpe scheme has been given a glowing endorsement by a leading environmental campaigner and adviser.

Professor Chris Baines says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's proposal for a 540-home model village on the city's outskirts "deserves to be wholeheartedly embraced by the environmental movement and by the house-building industry".

He said in a report that, as the development matured, it would undoubtedly begin to serve as a model for the growing number of people who wished to attain a more sustainable pace of urban living.

Families could enjoy life in inspiring surroundings and live in greater harmony with their environment, said Prof Baines, who works primarily as a freelance environmental adviser to central and local government, but is also patron of the Landscape Design Trust and vice-president of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, and regularly broadcasts for the BBC.

"Most importantly of all, it will serve as a practical model for others in the public and private housing sectors, for champions of sustainable development in central and local government, and for opinion leaders in the environmental movement," he said.

He claimed that as the JRF this week celebrated the 100th anniversary of its support for research and innovation in the field of social housing, it seemed "absolutely right" that it should choose this moment to invest in Derwenthorpe.

The foundation says it commissioned Prof Baines to examine its proposals after people had called into question the independence of its own ecologist, in particular over issues such as the presence of great crested newts, a protected species, on the site.

Development director Nigel Ingram said it had full confidence in its local ecologist. "But we felt that because it was such a significant scheme it was right to get a second opinion."

He said the report would now be forwarded to a series of potential partnership organisations, from the British Trust For Conservation Volunteers and Yorkshire Forward to the RSPB and the Wildfowl And Wetland Trust, in the hope that an environmental group could be formed to take environmental aspects of the scheme forward.

Many local residents have strongly criticised Derwenthorpe, primarily because of the impact of extra traffic on local roads such as Meadlands, Fifth Avenue, Temple Avenue and Osbaldwick main street.

But the report says that promoting sustainable travel options in the surrounding neighbourhood might well result in a moderation of local traffic congestion, which would compensate for the impact of the new community. The scheme is set to go before planners in the New Year.

Updated: 10:29 Thursday, December 16, 2004