Britain's first full survey of household emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for global warming, was published yesterday - and was full of surprises.
The most polluting homes in the country, the study found, were in the local authority area of Uttlesford in Essex, which is based on the charming market towns of Thaxted, Great Dunmow and Saffron Walden, and was once named as the best place to live in England and Wales.
The most polluting town or city, in domestic CO2 terms, was Reading, ahead of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, and the biggest-emitting region - by household - was non-industrialised eastern England.
The survey, commissioned by British Gas from the Cambridge-based consultancy Best Foot Forward, is the first full calculation of the amount of CO2 produced by British dwellings.
It examined all 386 British local authorities, looking at energy consumed in terms of electricity, gas and solid fuel, and converting that to a CO2 equivalent.
The study reports that the energy used by Uttlesford's 70,000 citizens produces an annual average of 8,092 kilos of CO2 per dwelling - equivalent to driving an average car 22,500 miles each year.
That is far ahead of the next worst local authority, which is Teesdale in County Durham, another area of attractive scenery, open spaces and market towns such as Barnard Castle.
The borough of Camden, on the other hand, in inner-city London, was the best-performing local authority, with its households producing an annual average of 3,255 kilos of CO2 each.
Of 23 major conurbations surveyed, Reading was the worst offender, with the average house responsible for 6,189 kilos of CO2 per year - the equivalent of driving 17,200 miles annually or flying 13,000 miles. The best performing city was John Prescott's constituency of Hull with CO2 emissions 40 per cent lower than Reading's, at 4,395 kg per annum.
In regional terms, eastern England was worst, with its households producing 5,968 kg per annum, and the best performer was Greater London, at 5,318.
British Gas said domestic CO2 emission levels were due to a variety of factors, including age and type of housing stock, quality of heating systems, ownership of appliances, occupancy levels, fuel mix and habits of occupants.
One conclusion to draw from the figures, which indicate that areas of relative affluence are the worst performers, is that people who have more money, spend more on energy.
This may, for example, be in the heating and lighting of bigger homes. In Reading, at the heart of the Thames Valley commuter belt, it may well indicate that local people have more electrical appliances than in other places.
"About 25 per cent of UK carbon emission is generated in domestic properties," said Jill Harrison, head of consumer affairs at British Gas. "The difference between the areas of the UK with low domestic CO2 emissions and those producing high emissions is staggering."
Ben Tuxworth, of the green charity, Forum, said: "Downward pressure on prices seems to mean that it's only the less affluent users that bother to save energy. If the rich are using over three times as much energy as the poor, we need to incentivise them to clean up their act."Reuse content