South East must balance growth with environmental sustainability

Quality of life in South East England will drop if more is not done to make residents more energy efficient and aware of conserving natural resources, a report has said.

Conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the working paper warns that slowing the rate of economic and population growth alone will not be enough to address the region’s environmental problems and resource shortages.

It also states that the standard of living in the South East will deteriorate, as will the weather, with more floods and droughts, if policies that promote resource efficiency and less waste and pollution are not put into place soon.

According to figures from the IPPR, households in the South East will see water consumption rise by 16%, air emissions by 7% and traffic levels by almost a quarter by 2015 if current growth rates continue.

Even if growth rates fell, the organisation claims that water consumption would still increase by a tenth, and traffic levels by over 17% over the same period of time.

“Our research demonstrates the need to really engage the public in this debate,” senior research fellow at IPPR Julie Foley stated.

However a poll by MORI showed that residents in the area did have concerns about the environment, even if there was room for improvement on how they managed their waste and resources.

Top issues of contention for the majority of people living in the South East were affordable housing and traffic levels, with less than a fifth of those interviewed not citing these as problems in the poll. Half of those interviewed also felt that public transport, or the lack of it, was a serious regional problem.

Tensions between growth and environmental sustainability were further highlighted by figures supplied to the IPPR by the local authorities, which also revealed that while affordable housing was a key issue, residents felt low pollution, access to green spaces and traffic levels were also important.

“A slower rate of growth on its own will not alleviate these problems,” Ms Foley pointed out. “What is needed are policies and practice aimed at getting more from less by encouraging individuals and firms to change their behaviour and use resources more efficiently.”

Public awareness of future risks associated with increased development and climate change was still not as high as it should be, she added, and policy makers need to identify policies that both encourage and enable individuals and firms to consume resources more sustainably.

The IPPR report recommended raising public awareness, offering incentives for improved sustainability such as tax breaks, putting regulations into place that require products and services meet minimum efficiency standards, and improving infrastructure – in particular local public transport services.

By Jane Kettle

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