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Government not the greenest: Smith

David Cameron's administration has failed to live up to its promise to be "the greenest government ever", the outgoing head of the Environment Agency said.

Lord Smith said that politicians of all parties failed to make the link between voters' concerns about the environment in their own communities and the public policy responses which could help protect it.

He accused Communities Secretary Eric Pickles of an "unforgivable" attack on Environment Agency experts during last winter's floods, and said that he was at odds with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson over whether human activity was responsible for climate change.

But he paid tribute to Mr Paterson's leadership during the flooding crisis and said that the Environment Secretary recognised the need to respond to the impact of global warming.

Asked whether the coalition Government had been "the greenest ever", Lord Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "By and large, no.

"It is really disappointing that this Government hasn't done as much as it promised it was going to do in relation to the environment.

"But I have to say that that is a charge that I would level at all the political parties and all governments, rather than just this Government.

"I fear that most politicians and most governments at the moment see the environment as something that is a bit generalised, it's a bit amorphous, it's not something that really hits the reality of people's lives, so they don't pay it very much attention.

"But... if you talk to people about their bit of the environment, they are absolutely passionate about it. Making that link between their passion for the place they live and what public policy can do about it is something that I think all politicians have neglected to do enough about."

On the Environment Secretary, who is widely seen as a climate change sceptic, Lord Smith said: "Owen Paterson has worked extremely well with me, with the Environment Agency and with a lot of environmental organisations over the last year and a half. He has actually done a pretty good job in terms of the things that he is responsible for.

"He provided a lot of leadership - even from his hospital bed - during the really extreme weather that we faced over the course of the winter.

"He believes that climate change is happening. He sees, absolutely rightly, that there is extreme weather now happening much more frequently than it used to.

"I would have a serious debate with him about the human activity that gives rise to that, because I believe that climate change is down to the things that we all do as human beings and we need to deal with that seriously over the coming decades. He probably wouldn't agree with me on that, but he does sense that something is happening, that the weather is changing and as a community, as a nation, we need to be serious about tackling it."

Mr Pickles angered Lord Smith during the winter floods when he cast doubt on his Agency's expertise, saying he was "really sorry that we took the advice ... we thought we were dealing with experts".

Lord Smith told Today: "He unforgivably for a moment called into question the professionalism and dedication of my staff. I took very, very serious difference with him on that."

But he added: "He did stand up in the House of Commons a couple of days later and said 'I love the Environment Agency'. That was good enough for me."

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