THE Thatcher government has set out 350 ways of improving the environment, but its long-awaited manifesto, charting the way to a greener, cleaner Britain has run into a hail of criticism. Chris Patten, the environment secretary, launched the 300-page document, ``This Common Inheritance,'' amid a fanfare of publicity, and many of the government's political critics conceded that it was pointing in the right direction in denouncing atmospheric pollution and proposing tight curbs on the dumping of toxic waste on land and at sea.
But in key areas Mr. Patten appeared content to set a course rather than say how it could be attained and paid for. This earned him criticism for allegedly having lost environmental policy battles in the Thatcher Cabinet.
The manifesto had been eagerly awaited by hundreds of political and other groups in Britain. Patten had promised a comprehensive assault on environmental pollution and, in recent months, had indicated that he would propose a wide range of well-financed measures.
Introducing his manifesto, printed on recycled paper and illustrated with color pictures of green fields, birds, and butterflies, he said it tackled every aspect of pollution ``from the street corner to the stratosphere.'' Brian Gould, the Labour Party opposition's ``shadow'' environment secretary, said Patten had produced a document ``long on waffle and short on policy.''
Jonathan Porritt, a leading figure in Friends of the Earth, said the manifesto ``contained many good things'' but was ``fundamentally flawed'' because it had been undermined by Patten's Cabinet colleagues and did not sufficiently address the greenhouse effect and global warming.
Patten, however, argued that achieving a clean and safe environment would take several years and that an international approach was necessary. A large part of his manifesto consisted of a call to European countries to cooperate on measures to reduce acid rain and coastal pollution.
He said the government would press for a Euro-agreement on ground-level ozone, incineration of toxic waste, and air quality control. In Britain, each government department would have a special ``green minister'' to monitor policies with environmental implications.
Environmental issues have become central to British politics. Last year Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who first publicly recognized the urgency of environmental questions in 1988, charged Patten as her new environment minister with producing a wide range of suitable policies. She wanted to persuade the public that the government was serious about the environment and had better policies than the Labour Party and the small Green Party, which did surprisingly well in European parliamentary elections two years ago.
The resulting manifesto is a blend of existing government commitments - to bring water quality up to a European standard, for example - and future aims.
Patten promises measures to control noise pollution, conserve cathedrals and other historic buildings, enforce tighter standards for carbon monoxide emissions by motor vehicles.
He intends to impose heavy fines on water polluters. He promises strict rules for storage of dangerous chemicals and plans a ten-fold increase in water, wind, and solar power generation.
On the roads, he will enforce speed limits, encourage greater use of buses and trains, prevent new road building where the end result threatens to create more traffic jams, and require that cars undergoing periodic tests are checked for carbon monoxide pollution.
Legislation to carry out the program, however, seems likely to be delayed until after the next general election, which is not due until mid-1992.
``This is the most comprehensive statement on the environment any British government has ever made,'' Patten said. ``We have tried to put it in an international context. For instance, we want the countries of Europe to produce agreed guidelines on the environmental impact of many kinds of consumer goods - and to label the products accordingly.''
Labour Party representatives said the manifesto failed to go beyond threatening the owners of vehicles with large engines that they would have to pay higher vehicle licenses. On water pollution, Labour said that the 28 billion ($52.4 billion) that Patten is promising to spend in the next decade will come from consumers paying for water from newly privatized companies.
David Bellamy, a leading conservationist whose television programs have made him a familiar figure to millions, said Patten's problem was that at a time of economic difficulty in Britain, he had failed to persuade Cabinet colleagues of the urgency of many measures.
``What we have is a fine statement of intent. But politicians will need to be pushed and harried to ensure that a reasonable number of Mr. Patten's measures are put into effect,'' Professor Bellamy said.
``I would like an illuminated sign put up outside the Houses of Parliament reminding all MP's what Mr. Patten has promised.''
Much reaction to the Patten ``greenprint'' was typified by a comment by Graham Jukes, an environmental health officer. He said: ``The real test of the government's commitment to enhancing our quality of life will be when the ideas are translated into positive action.''
Transport 2000, an environmental pressure group, said the manifesto included some welcome proposals, but did ``nothing to tackle forecasts of 80 to 142 percent traffic growth over the next 35 years.''