Ministers 'are failing to live up to their green rhetoric'

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Indy Politics

A survey of 11 government spending departments found that only the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had allocated money from its buildings budget to invest in "self-generation" schemes that environmentalists believe should be at the heart of energy policy.

The schemes include solar power, wind and ground energy and low-emissions, combined with heat and power plants that generate electricity as well as provide heating.

The revelation sparked a wave of protest from MPs and environmentalists, who are pressing for more power to be generated locally using low-emissions technology. They accused Mr Blair of failing to fulfil his claim in March, when he insisted that "right throughout government, we put the question of sustainability at the heart of what we try to do".

Parliamentary answers obtained by the Labour MP Alan Simpson showed that Defra was spending £1.5m this year on self generation, most of which will be spent on a combined heat and power plant for the department's Westminster headquarters that will cut carbon emissions by 30 tons a year.

The Department of Transport (DoT) was the only department to allocate cash to water recycling. The DoT said it was spending £15,000 to £20,000 on water recycling in a planned £12m print works for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea.

This survey comes just months after a report by the Government-backed Sustainable Development Commission criticised the environmental record of the Government's huge network of offices and other buildings and warned ministers were "way off" meeting targets for a 15 per cent increase in energy efficiency by 2010.

It warned that the Government's carbon emissions had increased by 8 per cent since 1999, despite a target to cut emissions by 12.5 per cent by 2010. But departments were praised for meeting a target to get 10 per cent of energy from renewable sources.

Yesterday, a private member's Bill aimed at forcing the Government to set national targets for increasing local green energy production passed through the Commons after winning government support.

But Mr Simpson said he was appalled by the low investment in the technology by ministers and accused departments of dragging their feet. He said: " Departments are doing very little. Across Europe, you see sustainability at the heart of things where governments make it happen. In Britain, our problem is that we have lots of soundbites and very little substance that changes the way we work or build."

He said 80 per cent of new buildings in Berlin had solar-powered energy generators, while the Netherlands had installed "hot road" energy systems that extracted heat for 100 houses from the ground under each kilometre of road.

Stephen Tindale, the executive director of Greenpeace, criticised the Government's performance when it is compared to schemes by local authorities. He said the Surrey town of Woking was working to cut carbon emissions by 77 per cent by using ground-breaking local- generation technology.

He added: "This is just another example of the yawning gap between New Labour's rhetoric and reality. One of the first things Alistair Darling [the Transport Secretary] could do is to bash heads together around the cabinet table so ministers start setting an example. If Woking can do this, why can't Whitehall?"

Parliamentary answers obtained by Mr Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South and a leading environmental campaigner, showed the Departments of Culture, Media and Sport, Transport, Education, Health and the Scotland and Wales Offices had not allocated any of their building budgets to self-generation schemes. The Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for national energy policy, also said it had not allocated money this year, although it did say it had commissioned a feasibility study on future projects from the Carbon Trust.

The Treasury and Ministry of Defence said no information was available. The MoD said it was "investigating opportunities to increase the number of self-generating renewable technology schemes installed on the defence estate. " Several departments did, however, insist that they were considering self-generation and outlined measures taken to cut power consumption.

But Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: "They just don't get it ... They really need to give a lead if they want people to take this seriously."

MP practises what he preaches in his environmentally friendly home

When Alan Simpson gets his quarterly power bill he can expect to be paid for the energy produced by the low emissions generators in his eco-home.

The Labour MP for Nottingham South has taken warnings about global warming to heart. The prominent left-winger, who is known for his commitment to environmental causes, has converted a derelict industrial building in the city's historic Lace Market into one of the greenest homes in Britain.

The mill, which bristles with the latest in green energy technology, is so efficient that it feeds power directly into the National Grid.

The £200,000 conversion produces its own electricity and recycles " grey water" from baths and gutters. The home has its own generator built into the central heating boiler that produces electricity from the heat normally wasted in conventional boilers. It has a roof covered with solar panels, but the house's enclosed location meant that plans for a wind turbine on the roof had to be abandoned. The solar panels produce more than 70 per cent of the house's power.

All the walls are made from compressed straw, while the lime green exterior walls are rendered using recycled paper or clad in recycled wood. The windows arespecially treated to ensure that heat can pass into the house, but does not escape.

Washing-up water is recycled and kitchen waste is composted.

Alongside the original Victorian features of the mill are a host of environmentally friendly yet modern finishes. The stairs are made from recycled wood and the floor matting is made of recycled materials, while there is a coloured window made of recycled bottles.

A two-storey wall in the kitchen and living room of the house are clad in lengths of recycled cardboard tubing, described by Mr Simpson as a " six-metre high wall of toilet roll".

Mr Simpson said: "The house produces 50 per cent more power than it consumes, so I get a cheque from the National Grid. It has a solar roof and a micro combined heat and power plant which generates electricity. There is a passive manifold system that recycles warm air. This excites me more than anything I have ever known."