By Cllr Gregor Murray
After declaring a Climate Emergency, we were faced with two challenges.
Firstly, to work out the detail on how we would reduce our carbon footprint; and secondly, to decide on the best way to pay for it.
To help choose the most effective course of action we should take, I wanted to listen to people who are experts.
Those experts came from three areas: environmental charities and interest groups; environmental businesses; and our residents.
Over the last two years, I have met with and engaged numerous individuals and organisations – either virtually or in person – to discuss and understand what they think Wokingham Borough Council could be doing to combat climate change.
I’ve spoken with, and attended events, hosted by environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth, and Climate Emergency UK.
I’ve met with the Woodland Trust to discuss what the right species of native trees that we should plant are, and where.
I’ve spoken with local environmental groups and charities, attended events in Parliament and discussed our climate emergency with some of our local MPs.
I have met with independent bodies to understand how we can reduce carbon from our existing buildings and homes, and how to create planning guidance locally that will enshrine low and zero carbon development into our building development.
In Wokingham Borough, we are blessed with having several industry-leading environmental businesses based within our boundaries.
Many are at the cutting edge of green technology and developing solutions to the climate crisis. I have met with a number of them to discuss ideas ranging from developing solar farms and at home solar, battery and heat pump technology, through to innovative solutions for absorbing particulate matter from the air and improving in-room air quality.
We also undertook to ask our residents what you thought we should do, and what ideas you had for tackling climate change locally. Several thousand ideas came back and all of them were reviewed and considered.
Some we were already planning to do, such as tree planting and rewilding. Other ideas made us look at existing projects differently.
One example was the new Dinton Pastures Activity Centre which, when it opens, will be the first carbon-zero building in Wokingham Borough. Some people raised challenges, such as the affordability of making climate friendly home improvements, which led us to explore and launch the Help to Heat scheme.
And there are many more ideas that we want to implement once we work through how to implement them and how to pay for them.
Paying for our climate initiatives isn’t easy. We get less money from the Government than any other unitary authority in England. Our budgets are always stretched, and we must work hard to ensure value for every pound we spend. Many climate initiatives, particularly those that will encourage sustainable living, will cost the council a lot of money.
Unless it’s completely unavoidable, we don’t want to pass that cost on to you. There are grants and other funding available for some of our initiatives, but others we will have to find the money for.
That’s why we must look at investing into solar farms and similar initiatives first. Even after paying back the loan required to fund it, a solar farm will generate a surplus in revenue. This money will help to pay for rewilding, active transport infrastructure, increased recycling, home efficiency programmes and potentially many other climate initiatives.
Next week: Let’s talk about Energy
Cllr Gregor Murray is executive member for resident services, communications and emissions on Wokingham Borough Council