Ambitious plans for a year-long push to turn York into Britain's energy City

have come to an end. Adam Nichols finds out if it took off.

TWELVE months ago the remnants of an ice Minster dripped in the August sunshine, the detail melted into a slushy heap. The imagery was extreme, but effective. It showed the destructive capabilities of the environment, and the urgent need to check changes happening to it.

Only a few weeks before more than 30,000 protesters had gathered in the Italian city of Genoa to protest to world leaders attending the G8 summit. Environmental concerns were high on their agenda. It showed the worldwide strength of feeling that attitudes had to change.

A year before, the worst floods for hundreds of years had ravaged York.

It was the ideal city to start the change. York was chosen to host a year-long effort to lead the UK, and the rest of the world, in energy conservation, to show the difference the people of the historic city could make and how a determined York could become the most energy-efficient in the country.

On that summer's day PlanetYork was born. During the last 12 months it has brought environment conservation issues to every corner of the city.

Schoolchildren have completed energy saving projects and listened to visiting speakers. Employers have signed up to schemes designed at getting their workers to shun the car and take to their bikes and save energy at work.

Norwich Union even signed a £60,000 sponsorship deal for a Park & Ride bus to carry their employees between city sites.

Christmas shoppers had their most energy conscious Yuletide ever as the city became the first to have its festive lights powered by renewable energy, while dozens of residents pledged to commit themselves to changing their lifestyles to reduce energy use.

The city hosted its own "green" conference in the run-up to the world summit on sustainable development, and looked at what had been achieved in the ten years since the Rio Earth Summit.

And a major transport conference attended by Government minister David Jamieson chose York as its venue because of its year-long dedication to the environment.

According to project co-ordinator Laura Collins the year has changed the way we live.

"Five thousand households have taken energy saving action in York alone, and there's a lot that has been done which hasn't been reported to us," she says.

"That is an excellent result for us, and there could be a lot more than that. We know people have been prompted to do things off their own back, but we don't know how many have done that."

Action could include something as little as changing to low wattage lightbulbs, insulating lofts and changing boilers and other electrical appliances.

"As long as people do what they can, then that's a start," says Laura.

"People are now making links between climate change and flooding and other environmental changes. As things keep happening here and elsewhere, such as the floods we have just seen across Europe, those links are becoming more apparent and people are starting to do more to stop them. That's a success for us in itself.

"Energy use is not the most exciting issue. People have always taken for granted that they can switch on a light and the energy that uses will never run out, but one of the things we have been able to do this year is bring to people's attention that this is not the case and whatever they can do can make a difference.

'PlanetYork was just a 12-month project, but the issues that were being discussed are not short term. We have had a 12-month push, but now we want to keep that going." Laura's own life has changed to fit in with the year.

She says: "I moved into a house just as this year started and I changed all the light bulbs to low wattage ones. A couple of months after that our bills have all been credited. This the first time that has happened."

She also sold her car and replaced it with a bike - although these days she normally walks.

"I never did get the hang of the bike, but I don't miss the car at all," she says.

At the moment figures comparing carbon monoxide levels in the city are not available, although work is being carried out collating them.

And an "ecological footprint" drawn up by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute could help with this task.

The study looked at the amount of materials produced and consumed in the city during a 12-month period.

The information will be used by planners when considering future developments and will create a framework for understanding ways the city can improve sustainability - and will provide a point to which future measurements can be compared.

Despite the year ending, the work is far from over.

A dedicated small business adviser has been appointed as part of the project with the remit of visiting sites and giving advice on how energy - and money - can be saved.

That job will continue.

And schemes set up during the year will keep running. They include the Solar project, which offers discounted solar power to heat a household's water.

Laura's job ends, but she has been appointed manager of the Energy Advice Centre, a driving force behind PlanetYork which has been in George Hudson Street since 1993 and works to promote energy efficiency.

And the name PlanetYork is not going to disappear. "People have begun to have a sense of ownership for this campaign, and the name is such a strong identity," says Laura. "I'm sure it will continue to be used in the city."

Updated: 10:23 Friday, August 30, 2002