The green house of the future

Branson and the greenerati can afford to go green. And so, soon, could you. Geoffrey Lean on Labour's eco-build revolution
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Radical plans are being drawn up to make Britain's houses the most environmentally friendly in Europe, with new "zero-carbon" developments proposed to cut back on global warming.

The measures - being drawn up by Yvette Cooper, the housing and planning minister - will surprise environmentalists, who have long criticised the country's appalling record on building "green" homes.

She plans to introduce new codes and building regulations to surpass Scandinavian standards, for decades the best in Europe, and is to launch a competition to encourage builders to produce eco-housing. And last Friday she launched a study into how to provide zero-carbon developments in the Thames Gateway.

Britain's homes produce about a quarter of the country's entire emissions of carbon dioxide, the major cause of climate change. Half of them have less than a third of the right amount of loft insulation, though two-thirds of Britons say that they would be ready to pay more for an energy-efficient home.

Four years ago, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, told The Independent on Sunday that he was going to "redirect the energy" he had been putting into brokering the Kyoto Protocol - and campaigning for countries to implement it - into building environmentally friendly communities at home.

But he made so little progress that Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the official Energy Savings Trust, called his plans "at best a massive missed opportunity, and at worst reckless". And WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) resigned from the official body overseeing a new green housing code on the grounds that it was "going backwards".

Ministers retort that improved regulations have made new buildings 40 per cent more energy efficient than five years ago. But Ms Cooper's measures are designed to mark a quantum leap forward.

She has just returned from the first ministerial tour of eco-housing in Sweden and the Netherlands, accompanied by leaders of WWF and the Home Builders Federation. She said: "If they can do it why can't we? And the fact is that we need to do it better.

"If we are to take up the challenge of climate change we are going to have to be the best in Europe, not the worst, and the Thames Gateway is an ideal place to start."


Coming soon. This revolutionary eco-development is to be built in the Thames Gateway by a new company, Bioregional Quintain Ltd, specifically formed to construct green housing. It has been designed by Foster and Partners with finance from the Government and WWF.

1 Low dual-flush WC.

2 Sewage is sent to be turned into fuel in a biogas plant.

3 Low-flow shower head.

4 Wastewater sent to be treated.

5 Electricity from wind turbines, solar panels and a combined heat and power plant fuelled by biomass.

6 Built-in recycling containers.

7 Energy-saving lighting and appliances.

8 Space heating and cooling.

9 Fruit trees and farmers' market.

10 Green roofs and terraces growing grass and plants.

11 Store for cold water in aquifer to cool buildings in summer.

12 Store for warm water in aquifer to heat them in winter.

13 Wind turbines.

14 Energy centre with anaerobic digester biogas plant.

15 Gravel and reed beds for purifying wastewater before it is used for irrigation.