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It is two years since West Berks council declared a climate emergency – so what is is doing about it?

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Carbon-neutral is the new gold. Nowadays, more and more companies pledge to become carbon neutral, net-zero or even climate positive – so we thought it was time to catch up on where West Berkshire is at.

Local Democracy Reporter Niki Hinman went to find out.

It is two-and-a-bit years since West Berkshire Council declared a climate emergency, in July 2019, with the stated intent to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Ayla Mullany, 3, enjoys the wild flower allotments at Compton (51852397)
Ayla Mullany, 3, enjoys the wild flower allotments at Compton (51852397)

Carbon neutral means that any CO2 released into the atmosphere from a council’s activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed.

It has a 10-year – in fact now more like an eight-year – plan to deliver that, and is growing its in-house team to make it happen. The delivery plan only received approval in July this year.

The latest action plan has 75 line items.

So far, actions have ranged from reviews and assessments of everything from drainage to flood management, to encouraging emerging sustainable transport technologies and even reducing single use plastic for council activities.

A tree strategy is in the offing. There is even a single line in the plan to have a joined up approach to natural regeneration, re-wilding, carbon capture and habitat conservation.

An epic task, one might think, in a single line of a 75-point delivery plan.

The council says one of the key challenges is being able to accurately capture/quantify carbon reduction activities within the district.

For the past two years, it seems the council has been busy assessing, planning and strategising, but bit by bit the ‘doing’ rather than the talking is taking place.

It has installed 36 on-street electric charging points, and wants the public to suggest other places to put them.

Charge points information can be found here.

It has set up parish climate councils, and announced £12.5m for environmental projects in the coming year.

Those include a plastic recycling trial, with four new banks for the collection of plastic pots, tubs and trays. There will be a new food waste collection bin.

A 75-acre solar farm is planned at Grazeley. There will be 45,000 panels and spades could be in the ground next year.

The council says this £10m project would generate enough electricity each year to power the equivalent of approximately 4,400 homes, as well as adding panels to council buildings and schools.

Onsatlling solar panels on council buildings (51852228)
Onsatlling solar panels on council buildings (51852228)

It further claims this would offset around 30 per cent of West Berkshire’s carbon footprint.

A local cycling and walking plan covering Newbury, Thatcham, Pangbourne, Calcot and Theale has also been approved this year.


: Cyclists and walkers enjoy new bench in Newbury

Richard Somner (Con, Tilehurst South and Holybrook) is the executive member for planning, transport and countryside.

"West Berkshire Council is totally committed to providing better cycling and walking conditions for its residents and the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan is a very important step towards reaching that goal,” he said.

"This is a long-term project and we want to ensure that we have taken all the necessary measures to ensure the successful delivery of the walking and cycling network."

The plan will be part of the West Berkshire Council transport policy. The next steps include feasibility studies for the routes.

But there are those whom think the council is missing out on easy wins.

“West Berkshire Council needs to act with a greater sense of urgency if it is going to be carbon neutral by 2030,” said Green Party group leader Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway).

“Staff are working hard with the resources they have, but the Conservative administration needs to put more pressure on its Government to invest in building insulation and green energy.

“We need higher standards for new housing developments – including insulation, solar, heat source pumps. There are no-brainer quick wins the council is failing to take – like restricting electric car charging spaces to electric cars only.”

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