The Wokingham Paper

Council adopts Climate Emergency Action Plan

Solar panels
Some solar panels yesterday Picture: andreas160578 from Pixabay

THE COUNCIL adopted a bold plan to become carbon neutral by 2030. 

Introducing it at a virtual meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on Thursday, July 23, Cllr Gregor Murray said: “Six months ago I presented to council the initial climate emergency action plan, a document that laid out our eight key focus areas and initial steps towards reaching Carbon neutral by 2030. 

“Today I present 37 core targets, 123 key actions and 385 milestones along with a financial plan and a carbon budget that will take our Borough from emitting 580,000 net carbon tonnes each year to emitting just 72,000 net carbon tonnes per year.

“It is true that we are not 100% of the way there yet, but Mr Mayor we are one year into this journey and we have ten left to go.”

Actions will: 

  • Nearly double our network of greenways
  • Double public transport use across the Borough
  • Build Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure
  • Improve our air quality
  • Invest heavily into Renewable Energy Generation
  • Provide support for residents in making environmentally friendly home improvements
  • Retro-fit our schools
  • Plant 250,000 trees
  • Engage our young people in living low carbon lives
  • Increase our recycling and send zero waste to landfill
  • Set stretching emissions targets for new house building
  • Change the way our council buys goods and services
  • And actively engage our residents and local businesses to change behaviours.

Like a lot of councillors in the debate, he thanked Wokingham Borough Council officers for the “thousands of hours of work” that has gone into the plan, “to whom we should all be hugely grateful”. 

He added: “I would like to thank the officers who, rather than paying expensive consultants to undertake our carbon budgeting for us, chose to build that knowledge and expertise in-house. In doing so we have learned first hand how we reduce our carbon footprint and the impact our efforts will have. 

“We also avoid the cost of paying consultants every time we want to add new initiatives or change our plans. The supporting documentation to this action plan is in many ways is just as impressive as the actual action plan itself.

“For the sake of all our children and all our futures I ask all members to vote to endorse this action plan. In ten years time, when we live in a carbon neutral Borough, we will look back on how we voted today and be glad that we did.”

Cllr Laura Blumenthal seconded the motion, saying that  it was a living document that would require adaptations constantly over the next decade. 

She added: “We can be proud of the plan we have today”. 

Cllr Sarah Kerr (Lib Dem) said that she wanted to lodge an amendment to the motion, saying that she welcomed the new plan, saying “ It is a vast improvement on what was presented to us at the beginning of the year” and that the amendment is “to acknowledge that there is still much work to do.  This document will always evolve, but it needs to meet a certain baseline first which it hasn’t quite done yet”.  

She added: “My biggest concern though is that changing people’s behaviour, which is paramount to the success of this, is not sufficiently addressed.  We run the risk of underestimating the enormity of the task, and not bringing people with us.  

“If we don’t communicate effectively and work on behavioural change, this will be an uphill battle.” 

Cllr Clive Jones (Lib Dem deputy leader) seconded the amendment, saying: “We think that it’s important to recognise that although there is some detail in this action plan…..there is much that is missing. 

“In this action plan we have 47 actions that still don’t have a carbon budget set against them.”

He also said that some action plan does not have enough detail, but the party does support the plan and also asked for a Covid-19 memorial wood, planting trees in memory of residents who died during the pandemic. 

Cllr Murray was asked by the mayor if he would accept the amendment, which he did. 

Cllr Alison Swaddle (Cons) said that the action plan had been amended on the way to tonight’s meeting, adding that it had been useful to work cross-party to scrutinise the plan and the officers. 

“We have all been working together in the best interests of our residents, without grandstanding,” she said. 

Cllr John Kaiser (deputy leader, Cons) said the nice thing about a lot of this plan is that we’re going to generate clean, sustainable energy that will generate revenue that will subsidise services in the borough, 

“Quite a lot of this plan is commercial,” he said. 

Cllr Gary Cowan (Ind) said: “The Climate Emergency document has lots to commend it but I have serious reservations on how this plan fits in with planning today and in future years”. 

He added: “I will support the plan as it has much to commend it but there are huge challenges and obstacles this Council has to get past to have even the slightest chance of being Carbon Neutral by 2030”.

Not everyone was in agreement. Cllr Carl Doran said that it falls far short of its target and was extremely disappointing. 

“The plan lists a cycleway built for £1m that has NO climate benefit, in a Climate Emergency Plan,” he said. 

“The figures in this plan are FRACTALLY wrong – The further you zoom in, the more you find wrong.

“The biggest obstacle to reducing carbon emissions is no longer climate change denial.

“It’s those who want to delay action on climate change.

“And this is the kind of plan I would expect from those people.”

Independent Cllr Jim Frewin said “We need to look at how change the culture of the council and how we do business”. 

Cllr Paul Fishwick (Lib Dem) said: “It is an extremely important document and is likely to be the most important one this decade”.

The initial plan in January was, he said, a ‘wish list’ and it was thanks to officers working during the Covid-19 pandemic that the council could now vote on “o a more comprehensive document with some meaningful forecasted reductions in carbon.

“However, with many gaps in the data analysis and financial costs of projects still to be ascertained, this document cannot be accepted as ‘detailed’, but I can endorse the targets where they are available to enable the document to progress.”

He warned: “At its current stage it would not be robust enough to meet the criteria of a business case.”

Cllr Rachel Burgess (Lab) said that “the action plan produced is still 73 kiltonnes short of what is needed, that’s over 25% of the carbon reductions required that are still not accounted for.

“It appears that the numbers do not add up”. 

She cited the green bank, which would attract 15,000 households in the borough – ‘Is that really realistic?”

“It looks to me like the council are just desperately inflating figures to meet the target. We need

ambition, but Cllr Murray should know that you can’t just go through targets and then

double them arbitrarily – this is not real ambition.

“This plan is nowhere near acceptable”. 

The mayor then attempted to ask Cllr Murray to sum up the debate, but Cllr Andy Croy (Lab) interrupted saying that both he and a fellow councillor had not spoken and there was no pressure on time during this debate. 

When the mayor attempted to move back to Cllr Murray, Cllr Croy said: “I don’t think this is right… this is unacceptable”. 

He added: “This is a terrible way to treat members … it’s a terrible, terrible decision”. 

Cllr Murray thanked everyone who spoke, “This has been a huge piece of work … it affects everything we do as a council”. 

He also praised Cllr Jones’ ideas for a covid-19 memorial wood and hoped that the council could find a suitable piece of land. 

The motion was passed, but not unanimously.

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