Author Archives: derek

New Zero Carbon Britain Report

Zero Carbon BritainThe Centre for Alternative Technology has just issued a new edition of their report ‘Zero Carbon Britain’. Like the earlier editions it shows how the UK could reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2030. It’s been updated to include more expert input from a wide range of sources: in particular there is a lot more on land use. It’s free too as you can download it from the CAT website.

The key messages from the report include:

  • By combining a smart approach to diet, building, energy and land-use it is possible to rapidly reduce emissions to net zero by 2030.
  • Smart demand management and intelligent use of surplus electricity in combination with carbon neutral synthetic gas and liquid fuels means we can ensure energy supplies in all weather conditions.
  • Rethinking our diets means the UK can produce the vast majority of the food required to keep us healthy – whilst also reducing agricultural impacts and freeing up land to grow energy crops and capturing carbon.
  • Land freed up by changes in diet enables us to balance out all greenhouse gas emissions that cannot be eliminated from industry, waste and agriculture using natural safe, sustainable and reliable methods of capturing carbon.

The changes outlined in the report can also help us adapt to expected changes in climate, whilst helping make us resilience against those changes we can’t predict.

As well as rising to the climate challenge, the transition outlined in the new report has a range of additional benefits – creating over a million jobs, having a positive impact on our economy and on our health and wellbeing both as individuals, and as a society.

The future really doesn’t have to be dark! Working out what it would be like to live in a world which is actually rising to the urgent 21st century challenges is an empowering and creative process!

Two evening gardening courses for Spring

Do you fancy an evening or two of happy horticulture?

Debbie Fox, the Chairman of Caterham & District Horticultural Society and Growing Redhill, is giving two one evening gardening courses for Spring at EastSurreyCollege. The first one is on 20 March and details are below.  Feel free to promote it to friends and colleagues.  Each evening talk costs £7.00 and can be booked in advance by calling 01737 788445 or online at The talks are from 18.30-20.00.

20 March – The Joys of Gardening in East Surrey – Past & Present(course code LSKE2X44XA).
This course is for the gardener, garden tourist and local heritage enthusiast. I hope it will stimulate further interest or study. We have a rich garden history inEast Surrey. We’ll visit some lesser known, yet inspiring, gardens on our armchair tour. We will study the charismatic, and often published, people behind the gardens. Fast-forward to today and we’ll look at the same locations. What legacy did these avid gardeners leave us? How do we share our joy of gardening now? The National Gardens Scheme is thriving inEast Surrey. Horticultural societies such as Caterham and District have been running since the 1880s. Growing Redhill is part of a new movement called Landshare. We will explore the challenge of attracting new interest from our younger, future gardeners, and new models of publishing, such as social media.

Wednesday 15 May – Changing Floral Fashions – the Thirties to the Noughties

(course code AADE3X16XA).

What is Sustainable Development?

At the heart of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework is the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.  But what exactly do they mean?  There really should be no argument about this.  The official definition runs as follows:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Developing this further, a sustainable development has to meet three requirements which boil down to:

  1. it must not damage the environment for future generations
  2. it must meet present social needs (be politically possible)
  3. it must be practicable (in other words it does not need money, technology or  resources that don’t exist or can’t be found)

The Reigate & Banstead Borough Council “Core Strategy: Further Amendments Dec 2012” starts section 7.1 with this opening statement:

“The Council is committed to ensuring that development will create places and spaces that are well designed and meet the needs of today and tomorrow, but not at the expense of the future.”

This is fine but the document continues as follows:

“7.1 Sustainable development

7.1.1 Underpinning this Core Strategy is a commitment by the Council to ensure that future development in the borough is achieved in a sustainable way – that it delivers prosperous and self-reliant communities whilst ensuring that the borough remains attractive, accessible and well-maintained.”

This well meaning but rather wooly statement is very different, with no mention of the environment or future generations at all.  Is this a deliberate watering down, or just careless wording?  I suggest this is something that needs to be addressed at the enquiry into the Core Strategy.

Perhaps the real problem for anyone writing a document based on sustainable development is that, in the real world, sustainable development is simply not possible.  The three requirements for sustainable development will often conflict.  You are then forced to compromise between the three requirements: environmental, social, economic.  The clearest example I can think of is the continued burning of fossil fuels.  Requirement 1 would require us to stop burning immediately, as the greenhouse gas concentration is already too high.  This is certainly practicable (meets requirement 3), but as it would rapidly kill most of the world’s population, it’s out of the question (fails requirement 2).

So in practice we have to accept that in many cases ‘sustainable’ actually means ‘as sustainable as possible’.  Green minded people have to address and overcome requirements 2 and 3 and not just concentrate on 1.  Decision makers have to take more notice of requirement 1 and not just think of the needs of the present.

Derek Smith


Building on the Green Belt in Reigate & Banstead

Along with many other people I submitted an objection to the council’s amended Core Strategy that includes the possibility of building on two areas of Green Belt in the borough.  One of the criticisms I made was that the strategy says nothing about the housing density of any new houses, leaving it open for developers to build yet more ‘executive-style’ housing.  Left to themselves, developers will always choose to do as it’s more profitable for them, but they are clearly less sustainable as they take more land and use more energy and resources than high density housing.  And it’s cheaper, smaller housing that most people actually want.

I’ve since come across this in the Council’s ‘Core Strategy and Green Belt February 2013’ document, which you can find on the council’s website.

“The Council also wants to make sure that unpopular high density ‘town cramming’ is avoided. It is important that new development in towns and villages is properly integrated into existing communities and respects local character and quality of life. This approach means that later on, providing some sites for lower density development in the Green Belt may be necessary.”

So I was wrong to think that the Council says nothing about housing density: it actually prefers low density!  The term ‘town cramming’ is new to me, and so presumably to most other people too.  So how does the Council know it’s unpopular?  Who have they asked?  It may be unpopular with existing residents of low density, leafy areas who want their ‘local character and quality of life’ undisturbed, but what about the people who would benefit from an affordable home in an existing urban area?  In any case, building anywhere in an overcrowded country like ours is always going to be a ‘least worse’ option.

If we rule out building high density housing in existing low housing density areas (which is what I assume town cramming is), then as they say building on the Green Belt may be necessary.  What is the least worse option?  I know my answer.

Derek Smith


Confessions of a home energy auditor

“Are you keen to cut your energy bills but don’t know how?”  is the slogan used by Action Surrey to advertise their free energy audit service.  Action Surrey is based in Woking, is supported by all the local authorities in Surrey and offers impartial energy advice to local householders.  The energy audit service works through groups of volunteer auditors: in the Reigate and Banstead borough that means that the Transition Redhill home energy project does the work.

I’ve done four audits in the past two weeks, our busiest spell yet.  It’s proving to be enjoyable and rewarding.  The householders are always very welcoming and chatty, and appreciate that we’re not there to sell them anything.  Most audits take around 90 mins.  Mostly we (there are normally two auditors) sit down with the householder and work through a standard list of questions about the house, its insulation, its heating and the behaviour of the occupants.  We then have a look at anything the householder is unsure of.  For example we might look in the loft to see how much insulation there is, and at the boiler to see the central heating and hot water settings.  After our visit we do a report, get it approved and submit it.  Our starting point is a standard report that contains recommendations for all the normal issues that arise.  We then delete and add to that as required to produce a tailor-made report.  A typical list of recommendations would include big things like installing cavity wall insulation (free at present!) and replacing an old boiler, and little things like turning down the central heating temperature and stopping draughts.

If you are interested in either having an audit or being an auditor, then ring Action Surrey on 0800-783 2503 or email

Derek Smith

Free Cavity Wall & Loft Insulation for All

Cavity Wall Insulation(The following information is provided by Action Surrey which we are happy to reproduce.  It’s very good news for anyone wanting to reduce their heating bills.)

Action Surrey in partnership with your local authority and through UK Home Insulations Ltd is now able to offer free insulation for all homeowners or private tenants (with the landlord’s permission). Previously the offer of free insulation was only available to those over 70 or in receipt of benefits, however now insulation is free for all*.

Reasons to insulate your house now!

1.  Cavity wall and loft insulation can save you in excess of £300 a year in energy      bills** as well as making your house more comfortable to live in. Being warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer!

2. Insulate your house now ready for next winter and ahead of the gas increases that are expected to hit everyone this year.

3. The current subsidy scheme that is now giving insulation free to everyone is      due to the change at the end of this year!  The current scheme will be replaced by the Government’s Green Deal whereby a loan based scheme will be attached to the property and paid off by savings in the energy bill.      Alternatively, homeowners can pay up front but the installation cost either way will be a lot higher than when the free insulation offer has been removed.

Contact Action Surrey today for a free, no obligation survey of your property.

Tel: 0800 783 2503

Struggling to clear your loft? Action Surreycan also help with this too. Your loft could be cleared for free if you are over the age of 70 or in receipt of benefits.

*subject to survey and property size. ** Based upon Energy Saving Trust figures for a gas heated 3 Bed Semi Detached House. Free Insulation does not include extra work such as down light covers, scaffolding, moving items from the loft, insulating water tanks or installing vents. Energy companies currently subsidise insulation to meet energy efficiency targets set by the Government Carbon Energy Reduction Targets.

Sara Winnington

Project Officer for Action Surrey – Surrey’s Low Carbon Community