Blair environmental adviser commutes by air

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Indy Politics

A top adviser to Tony Blair on sustainable development and the environment has been accused of undermining government policy on curbing aviation pollution after it was revealed that he makes a 500-mile round trip by jet from Birmingham to Edinburgh each week.

Richard Wakeford, a senior civil servant in charge of the Scottish Executive's environment department, commutes to work in Edinburgh every week from his home in Gloucestershire producing an estimated 90kg of carbon dioxide.

Over the four years of his contract, Mr Wakeford is likely to travel as many as 94,000 air miles getting to work, accounting for approximately 17 tons of carbon dioxide. The figures do not include his weekly 100-mile round trip to Birmingham airport from his home outside Cheltenham, or the 20-mile round trip between Edinburgh airport and the headquarters of the Scottish Executive.

He refused to move to Scotland when he became department head nearly two years ago for "family reasons".

Mr Wakeford was chief executive of the Countryside Agency and a member of the Sustainable Development Commission which advised the Prime Minister on action to reduce CO2 emissions, including calling for more radical measures to curb airport development.

Its report, which he helped to provide for the Prime Minister, criticised the Government for a "predict and provide" approach to aviation. The report said: "The present rate of growth in air traffic is unsustainable ... and policy should be seeking to manage growth rates towards more sustainable levels."

The report added: "We should all take responsibility for promoting sustainability in our own lives...."

Richard Lochhead, the environment spokesman for the SNP, said Mr Wakeford's choice of travel was hugely embarrassing for Scotland's Environment minister, Ross Finnie. "How on earth can he persuade the rest of the working population to review how they travel to work to help the environment when the head of his own department flies?"

Mr Wakeford, who joined the Scottish Executive in early 2005, put forward a Scottish Executive plan for sustainable development within months of his appointment. According to minutes of the meeting, members of the Executive discussed cutting their own air travel but decided that it would inconvenience themselves or their staff too much. "The positive value of a signal to the wider public sector should be balanced against the potential detrimental effect on the conduct of business and convenience for staff," they said.

A spokesman for Mr Wakeford said: "There are family circumstances that means it makes more sense for him to be where he is."

Alex Johnstone, Tory environment spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, said: "It seems strange that the best candidate is contradicting two Executive policies, both on transport and on attracting more people to come and live here."

It came as the Commons environmental audit committee, chaired by the former minister Tim Yeo, prepared to launch an investigation into the potential for airlines to cash in on tradeable carbon emission credits. Environmentalists claim airlines stand to make windfall profits of nearly £2.5bn as a result of the proposal to give away most emissions permits rather than auction them.

The airlines could sell them to other industries if they cut emissions, or buy more if they exceed their targets. The European Commission proposals to include the fast-growing aviation industry in the EU emissions trading system got a lukewarm reaction last week.

The proposals from the European Commission, which have still to be endorsed by environment ministers, would see airlines come within the carbon emissions market for the first time. But they fall far short of the tax on airline fuel and halting airport expansion that campaigners are calling for.