Feb 3 2006 By Thomas Sieber, Chester Chronicle
ON A cold January evening last week, nearly half the population of Ashton Hayes attended a high-profile launch event for an initiative that makes the village a UK trailblazer.
'Going Carbon Neutral' was envisaged last year by Garry Charnock, who lives in the village and has a background in environmental research. And in November, Ashton Hayes Parish Council voted to embark on the campaign.
The result being that, in a few years, the village hopes to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than it absorbs from the atmosphere.
Plans for the village include renewable wind and solar technology, biofuels, home energy reduction, composting and even carbon sinks (trees and vegetation).
The project has sparked a great deal of interest in Ashton Hayes and beyond with more than 400 residents of all ages turning out last Thursday for the meeting which was covered by BBC TV and radio.
Those who attended heard presentations from the project's main supporters, which included Chester City Council, Cheshire County Council, the University of Chester and the Energy Saving Trust.
Mr Charnock, who has taken on the role of project coordinator, said: 'Since the meeting I have had great feedback and the scheme has attracted interest from other parish councils as well.'
One of the residents at the meeting raised the issue of the provision of buses for the village and Mr Charnock agrees that public transport will be an important element of the campaign.
He added: 'One of the things that would really help is if there was better access to Mouldsworth Station, which is close to the village. But, at the moment, people have to walk along a dangerous country road.
'We are also looking at car sharing schemes.' The simplest step Mr Charnock is encouraging people in the village and beyond to take is to switch to 'green' electricity. This effectively means asking your household electricity supplier to provide energy from a renewable source.
He added: 'This is all about helping and supporting people who want to do something - it's not about pointing the finger.'
The city council pledged its support and promised to work towards becoming a 'carbon neutral' council. They are also offering every child under seven in the council's area an opportunity to plant a tree at school.
The village will only be able to measure its progress if it has detailed information on its emissions and the number of trees in the area. For this, it has turned to the university.
Dr Roy Alexander, from the Geography and International Development Studies department, described their role: 'In May, students from our department will be going to the village to carry out a survey looking at home energy and travel and transport.
'At the same time, another group will be looking at maps, aerial photography and satellite images to establish the number of carbon sinks in the immediate area.'
Dr Alexander explained that, following their research, the students will give a preliminary presentation of the survey's results at the beginning of June.
Then, for at least the next five years, they will be returning to Ashton Hayes to check on the village's progress.
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