THE leader of West Berkshire Council has defended the lack of transparency of a key environment group. 

After the council declared a climate emergency, a cross-party group of councillors was set up to discuss how West Berkshire can become carbon neutral by 2030. 

However, opposition councillors and campaigners have complained that the environment advisory group is kept ‘behind closed doors’. 

The public is not allowed to know what is discussed during meetings of the group, and councillors are forbidden from mentioning what goes on. 

Councillor Lynne Doherty (Con, Newbury Speen) responded to criticism at a meeting of the council’s executive on September 5. 

She said: “There needs to be an opportunity for members to throw ideas around, so people can have silly ideas and test the ideas. That’s the way it has always been.” 

Cllr Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common) said: “There’s no reason why the output of those meetings can’t be made public. Members of the public aren’t seeing progress.” 

The public will be able to get involved at the climate conference, on October 28, Tory councillors said. But opposition councillors questioned why it will be held on a Monday, instead of the weekend. 

Cllr Doherty said she decided it should be on a Monday, so young people could attend during half term. Cllr Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) pointed out that young people would also be able to attend on a Saturday. 

The public will also be consulted on the council’s environment strategy this autumn, said Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham Colthrop & Crookham), the lead member for the environment.

He said: “I’m looking forward to finalising [the strategy] after public feedback and the public conference. It should be finished early next year, if not by Christmas. We need to get the machinery in place. We’re doing really important jobs behind the scenes.”

Cllr Doherty said: “Getting those structures in place is key to going forward. I would like to thank Cllr Ardagh-Walter for all the work gone into this.” 

Cllr Abbs said: “I’m slightly concerned about the environment advisory group. It’s meant to be a cross-party group, but we’ve only met once so far. We’re here to help; please involve us more.”

Cllr Ardagh-Walter said: “I want to do that. But over the summer holidays people were on holiday.” 

The group has met only once, but will meet for the second time this week.