Along with many other households in the constituency, the Youngs try to do their bit to save the planet. We cope with dustbins of ever-changing sizes and colours, delivered by a munificent local authority. These dustbins live off different diets, which are pinned up on the kitchen notice board; they get emptied on different days, and these days can change at short notice - as do the intervals between collection. Knowing that we are saving many cubic feet of landfill site, we rise to the challenge and segregate our rubbish diligently.
We are frequent visitors to the Shepherd Spring Recycling Centre in Andover, and have bought some green bags for garden waste. Last year, I rejoined Friends of the Earth, having been expelled in 1995 for the unforgivable crime of building the Newbury Bypass.
In London , I cycle to work, annoying the cyclists behind me by stopping at red lights and pedestrian crossings. At home, I walk to catch the bus to the station, ignoring the generous offers of lifts from my neighbours. But I confess we do serious injury to the planet in many other ways, principally by keeping warm in winter and by driving – how else can you get round the rural North West Hampshire constituency?
To minimise the injury the car does to the atmosphere - and before we were incentivised by Gordon Brown’s budget - we sold the car and bought an Alternative Fuel Car.
This car will not be a frequent visitor to London’s Congestion Zone, but it is exempt from Ken Livingstone’s £8 daily charge when it does. (Why it is exempt from the Congestion Charge is a mystery – it causes every bit as much congestion as any other car of its dimension) To register for exemption, two pieces of paper are required. A Certificate of Exemption; and the Logbook. And this is when the serious environmentalist begins to lose heart.
You would have thought that the garage supplying the vehicle would have supplied the Certificate of Exemption that goes with it. Not so. It is obtained by contacting an 0845 number belonging to Head Office, who need to know the intimate details of the vehicle. The certificate then takes some time to arrive.
Likewise, the logbook of a new car does not arrive soon either. It spends its formative post-natal period in Swansea. Ours eventually arrived, asserting that its owner had an Alternative Fuel car. (Why the certificate of exemption is needed when the logbook asserts the vehicle’s green credentials is not explained.)
A form was then downloaded and send off to the privatised agency in Coventry to whom Ken Livingstone has awarded the relevant contract, whose owner may or may not be in line for a peerage. They took the £10 registration charge out of the bank with surprising promptness, and invited me to wait up to ten days. I have waited uncomplainingly twice as long, while the car waits for its first visit to the bright lights.
The conclusion I draw is that financial incentives sound fine; but unless they are underpinned by an efficient bureaucracy, people will lose heart.