Government ministers' efforts to promote the development of eco-towns suffered a further blow this week after another proposal was scrapped.
Tesco confirmed last week that it was pulling out of a bid to build an 8,000 home eco-town on land it owns at Hanley Grange near Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The supermarket giant said it was responding to local opposition.
This leaves only 12 proposals vying to be considered for the final shortlist of 10 early next year.
Proposals at Manby in Lincolnshire and Curborough in Staffordshire have recently been abandoned and promoters of projects at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk and Selby in Yorkshire are said to be under severe pressure from local residents to withdraw their bids.
Planning experts believe that of the remaining proposals, only Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire, Rossington in South Yorkshire and Elsenham in Essex can succeed.
"We would like to see the government focus on just one or two schemes," said senior planner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Kate Gordon. "Bordon springs to mind because there is already a settlement there and the principle of new development is supported by the local community."
Housing minister Caroline Flint has put back naming the final shortlist from October to early next year. Members of the independent Eco-town Challenge Panel have urged the government to focus on up to three proposals (NCE 10 July). Flint recently said that "up to 10" eco-towns would be confirmed in the new year.
Tesco put forward the Hanley Grange development in partnership with the Wellcome Trust which also owns land at the site. But the Trust pulled out of the project in July.
A Tesco spokesman said: "We believe a genuinely sustainable community stands the best chance of being successful if a broad range of stakeholders feels fully engaged in the process.
"We believe this is most likely to be achieved through a review of the Regional Spatial Strategy."
Tesco's stance was supported by CPRE which said that most of the existing proposals were seriously flawed because they ran counter to Regional Spatial Strategies already in place.
The government is soon expected to publish a Planning Policy Statement on eco-towns that will empower local authorities to support an eco-town proposal even if it goes against its Regional Spatial Strategy.