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< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

Like Gordon Brown, I’ve taken my summer break in the UK.

Why put up with the hassle of airport queues and the guilt of that ever-growing carbon footprint when you can don your hat, scarf and woolly jumper and enjoy the vast swathes of deserted beaches in Northumberland?

Not only does Northumberland have excellent beaches, but – and I know is a bit anoraky – I was rather impressed with the local recycling facilities.

After living in cities where recycling is treated as an infringement of human beings’ inalienable right to trash whatever takes their fancy, I was quite taken with the neat little receptacles for virtually every reusable item you can imagine.

What’s surprising is that it’s still a surprise to find recycling facilities this good. And even the site I visited had its drawbacks, being only accessible by car.

I can’t remember the last time I heard a serious and intelligent person argue against recycling, yet it’s taken an age for the serious and intelligent people who run local authorities to do much about it.

So imagine how much harder the government will find it to make real progress on an issue like renewable energy.

Well, we don’t have to imagine, because it was revealed this week that officials have been briefing ministers that our renewable energy target (20% of energy from renewables by 2020) is too challenging. That’s right, 13 years to go and already we’re saying it can’t be done.

Ministers have been quick to re-emphasise their commitment to the target and to renewable energy in general.

But it will take a bit more substance on how that will happen to restore faith.

In government there are commitments and commitments – one set that ministers see as genuine priorities, and a rather larger set that have appeared in manifestos, treaties and agreements, and will be trumpeted as successes if they happen and quietly ignored if they don’t.

It’s hard to tell where renewable energy falls. One good litmus test will be the way we develop our towns and cities.

Buildings are huge consumers of energy, but can easily be generators too – but we need to move beyond the odd grant for domestic solar panels and invest in large-scale projects that push down installation costs and significantly reduce households’ reliance on fossil fuels.

We need to move, too, beyond the slightly gimmicky plans for five new ‘eco-towns’ and say loud and clear that every new development should be an eco-town. It’s not as if we don’t have the technology – we just need the political energy.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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