The Green Audit

Britain's leading environmentalist says the Government's mission to balance economic growth with concern for the planet has failed to deliver. Ben Russell and Matthew Beard sift the evidence
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The Independent Online


Air quality

What they have promised: The Government aims to improve air quality by meeting the National Air Quality Strategy objectives for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particles, sulphur dioxide, benzene and 1-3 butadiene. The Air Quality Strategy, set in 2000, demanded reductions in eight key pollutants. Transport is one of the largest contributors to air pollution and the Government has introduced tax reductions on environment-friendly fuels.

What they have delivered: Ambient air quality is improving in most areas in terms of many of the traditional pollutants of the atmosphere, according to the report. Last year saw an increase in the number of days when air quality was average or higher.

However, there are parts of the country where emissions of nitrogen dioxide and ozone may fail to meet targets by the end of the decade. There is increasing concern about the growth of respiratory diseases and possible links with allergens and pollutants found in homes and in ambient air.


What they have promised: Ministers have promised to cut congestion on trunk roads and in urban areas to below the levels in 2000 by 2010. Labour's 2001 manifesto promised upgraded motorways and 100 new bypasses, but promised that environmentally damaging road schemes would be scrapped.

What they have delivered: Official statistics last month revealed traffic rose again last year, with an annual rise of between one and two per cent recorded since 1999. Last year, the respected Independent Transport Commission concluded that, if the Government's present policies were pursued, motorists would face a 25 per cent increase in the volume of traffic during the next seven years. The Commission concludes that traffic levels were rising "inexorably", while rail services had not improved.

River Water

What they have promised: Labour's 2001 manifesto pledged they would give £8bn for water companies to clean up rivers and minimise damage from waste. A programme approved by ministers recently also

includes action to tackle sewage overflows, protect wetland wildlife sites, control water leakage and curb phosphorus levels in lakes where its levels threaten serious ecological damage. In the manifesto, Labour also said it would invest more in protecting against coastal and inland flooding.

What they have delivered: River water quality has generally been improving but pollution from agricultural sources remains a serious problem for the environment. Water resources are already under pressure in the South and East of England, and proposed massive housing development in the most stressed regions will worsen that. Planning for winter floods and summer droughts that may become more frequent with the advent of climate change does not appear to be very far advanced.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

What they have promised: The 1997 election manifesto said it was a government's "duty" to tackle problems of climate change, insisting: "No responsible government can afford to take risks with the future. The cost is too high." The 2001 manifesto made tackling climate change one of Labour's 10 key goals for 2010. The Treasury's targets include a pledge to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent from 1990 levels on the way to a 20 per cent reduction by 2010.

What they have delivered: UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 15 per cent between 1990 and 2002, over the target in the Kyoto agreement. A strategy ministers believe could deliver a 23 per cent cut by 2010 was agreed four years ago, but the commission says road and air emissions are increasing and says a more ambitious reduction of 60 per cent is needed by 2050 to avert enviromental disaster.


What they have promised: The Government has pledged to improve biological diversity by reversing the decline in farmland birds by 2020. It aims by 2010 to bring into "favourable condition" 95 per cent of all nationally important wildlife sites. Public access is to improve to mountain, moor, heath and down and registered common land by the end of 2005.

What they have delivered: An official audit last December found that the Government had succeeded in reversing the decline of bird populations. Numbers of water and wetland birds rose by 7 per cent while there was a 50 per cent increase in mallard, moorhen, reed warbler and sand martin. But hundreds of native British plants, such as wild thyme and cowslip, are threatened by high levels of nutrients in soil caused by farming methods and industrial pollution. The starry breck lichen is now extinct because of airborne pollution.


What they have promised:

Labour's 2001 election manifesto said it was "imperative" to use resources more efficiently and recycle more material. Ministers have set a target that a quarter of household waste is recycled or composted by 2005-06.

What they have delivered: The Government says it is on course to meet this year's interim target for 17 per cent of household waste to be recycled or composted, but admits that its 25 per cent target for 2006 is "challenging". The last official figures, from 2002, showed people recycle 12.4 per cent of the 28 million tons of household waste produced every year.

The commission warned that waste levels were increasing faster than recycling and said that Britain still remained one of the worst nations in Europe for recycling. It said that ministers had been slow to introduce directives that would require producers to take responsibility for the waste derived from their products


What they have promised: Labour promised in 2001 to aim for full employment, to tackle homelessness, give help to pensioners and ensure that work pays. They pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020, insisting that a million children have been brought out of poverty.

What they have delivered: Labour insists it has increased support for pensioners and brought a million children out of poverty. Gordon Brown has launched a string of means-tested tax credits, but official figures last month showed that more than 3.5 million children were still living below the poverty line, despite a 200,000 drop in the total last year. The total number of people living in poverty, officially classed as people living in households with an income less than 60 per cent of "contemporary median income", fell from 12.5 million in 2002 to 12.4 million last year.


What they have promised: The 2001 manifesto included targets for waiting times, improving access to appointments with GPs and hospitals and tackling the lottery of care, as well as cutting mortality from major diseases and improving the quality of life for older people.

What they have delivered: Controversy rages over the Government's success in raising standards. Ministers are likely to achieve a target for people waiting no more than nine months for a hospital admission, also targets for access to GPs, with 96 per cent of patients seeing a GP within two days, against 75 per cent in March 2002. Nearly 500,000 more patients attended A&Ethis winter, but 90 per cent were treated in less than four hours. The Government has launched a campaign to combat obesity, but the commission criticises the NHS for failing to promote good health.

Land Use

What they have promised: In 1998 ministers aimed to build at least 60 per cent of all new homes on brownfield sites by 2006. The 1997 manifesto also said that the amount of greenfield area would be maintained or increased.

What they have delivered: Targets to build on brownfield sites were achieved ahead of schedule and they now account for 64 per cent of new developments, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister says. Since 1997 the area of greenfield sites has been increased by 25,000 hectares. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill going through Parliament is designed to make the planning system faster and more flexible.

The report recognises the increased proportion of brownfield sites, although there are regional variations. It adds that large amounts of greenfield land are still being developed.


What they have promised: In its 2001 manifesto Labour vowed to help key workers in high-cost areas such as London and the South-east. An extensive home-building programme would also help first-time buyers. The Government aimed to improve social housing to a "decent" level by 2010 with an extra £1.8bn.

What they have delivered: One million new homes have been built since 1997. Acknowledging the crisis in the South-east, John Prescott has also announced a plan to build 200,000 new homes in four key areas over the next 30 years. The report says that in all but the most economically depressed regions, housing is getting much more expensive compared to incomes for the poorest quarter of the population. The Government has succeeded in reducing the number of people having to live in sub-standard housing.