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Low Carbon project to return €1.2 million to Brussels?

Plans to construct Europe’s ‘greenest glasshouse’ at the Living Rainforest eco-centre in Berkshire are on the verge of collapse – with €1.2 million (£950,000) to be given back to Brussels – unless the final funding is secured over the next few weeks.

The sustainability charity has raised over €2.2 million (£1.8 million) of EC funding to showcase what the low-carbon commercial glasshouse of the future could look like. Instead of relying on greenhouse-gas-polluting fossil fuels for heat, the design uses the glasshouse itself to collect excess heat from the sun, and stores this energy underground for use in winter. The technology can be used to heat buildings and grow ‘protected crops’ like tomatoes and lettuce year-round in a climate-neutral way.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the UK to play a leading role on low carbon technologies which stand to benefit both food producers and consumers,” says local MP Richard Benyon.

The charity needs to raise about €1 million (£830,000) but has so far not succeeded in persuading the Government to support the final stages of the project, despite earlier public support for the flagship endeavour, and later financial backing from the EC.

With fossil fuel prices rising almost daily, growers need cheaper sources of heat, as do consumers because energy costs are driving up food prices. What better way to help food producers and shoppers to kick their carbon habit than by demonstrating a viable, green alternative?

The Government promotes the need to integrate the environment into economic development, yet it has to date appeared unwilling to give the charity the support needed to complete the showcase project.

Given the critical situation, the charity has written to the Prime Minister, asking for his urgent support to help keep the project alive.

“We have applied to numerous government departments for support – as a ‘low carbon’ project and as a pioneering science centre – but the truth is, our project does not fit neatly into any one policy box and we have been disappointed by the response. Our project is quite literally about helping to build a more sustainable future and it deserves your support,” writes the charity.

“Like many science centres, we support the work of the Government with very little funding from the public purse. We educate schoolchildren about the world’s threatened ecosystems, and about ways to reduce our ecological footprint at home and abroad, and we do so without relying on government handouts. But major innovation projects like this cannot succeed without reasonable backing from Government and other sources,” the letter continues.

The horticulture industry is keenly interested in the lessons to be learnt from the project but is feeling the pinch of rising energy prices and is not in a position to fund this work.

Despite the advantages, and solid financial support from Brussels, the project is now at risk.

“We need clear, realistic support from the Government to ensure that this wonderful demonstration project goes ahead,” says Karl Hansen at The Living Rainforest.

The Living Rainforest has just a few weeks to secure the support required, otherwise €1,200,000 will be on its way back to Brussels.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at 9:48 am and is filed under News.

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