Finding out where David Cameron stands on the big questions is a tricky matter, but at least he is starting by putting his own house in order. Thomas Lane spoke exclusively to the Tory leader, then met the architect and builder who are tackling the green makeover of his family home
David Cameron couldn’t have picked a better day to visit a construction waste recycling plant. The Conservative leader constantly stresses the importance of the environment in his speeches and is backing this up by giving his house a green makeover, but his enthusiasm could have evaporated in grey mud and pouring rain.
Luckily, however, the mountains of silt and gravel are glistening in the November sun, which gives Cameron plenty of time to meet and greet. This plant belongs to Eco Aggregates, part of Anderson Group, and its chairman, Mark Anderson, invited Cameron to see for himself what the construction industry is doing about recycling. This plant recycles waste soil from construction sites by separating it into usable aggregates.
Building managed to catch up with Cameron to find out first hand what he thinks about greening the built environment – if not to, as he feared, “ask me some very technical questions to try and catch me out”.
The Tory leader is effusive about the importance of recycling, but is unwilling or unable to give details about what the Conservatives intend to do to promote it.
Raising rates of recycling, whether this is household recycling, business waste or aggregates is a very important objective
“I can’t tell you on the hoof what our policy would be,” he says, “but I think raising rates of recycling, whether this is household recycling or recycling of business waste, or the recycling of aggregates is a very important objective.” Presumably motherhood and apple pie are also crucial objectives.
He adds that Mark Anderson had told him Britain lags way behind some other European countries when it comes to recycling site waste. Indeed, Anderson Group could have an impact on how the Conservatives eventually formulate their policy, as it is being called in to talk to former environment secretary John Gummer, who chairs Cameron’s quality of life policy review group.
What would the Conservatives do to encourage people to reduce carbon emissions from the built environment? Cameron says a broad-brush approach is needed, which includes looking at regulations that apply to housebuilding – although he didn’t specify which ones, or what he would do about them. He also wants to encourage energy saving through insulation and increase the use of renewable energy sources. “We need to look at all of these things and work out what we can do to have simple systems that encourage householders to make green decisions, that encourage businesses to invest in green products and generally move ahead the whole green agenda.” Of course, none of this sounds all that different from the government’s position. And with European legislation forcing all governments to recycle more, it’s a sure bet that tougher regulations and financial incentives are going to be part of any new government’s agenda.
Like Malcolm Wicks, minister of state for energy, Cameron thinks individuals must carry some financial responsibility for their carbon emissions, albeit with a little help from government. “It’s true the payback can be quite long for some of these investments, but people who want to demonstrate their own concern should find it easier to invest in things like solar panels, wind turbines and insulation, things that will make a difference,” he explains.
But if a politician makes a noise about the environment, the spotlight is naturally going to focus on his own commitment. As it happens, Cameron is in the middle of a high-profile refurbishment of his new home in west London. So we talked to his architect and builder to try to discover Cameron’s true colours …