KEY meetings to discuss tackling the climate crisis are kept secret to prevent ‘public concern about proposals’, a council policy officer has said. 

A climate emergency was declared by West Berkshire Council in July, and a cross-party group was set up to develop ideas to tackle the crisis. 

The environment advisory group (EAG) is made up of councillors from all three parties in the council: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and the Green party. 

However, the public is not allowed to know what is discussed in those meetings, and councillors are forbidden from telling residents about anything that takes place. 

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This is to prevent ‘public concern about proposals’, according to Rachel Craggs, principal policy officer. She said it is necessary for councillors to ‘explore extreme options’. 

At least 15 people submitted freedom of information (FoI) requests to the council, asking for agendas and minutes to the EAG meetings; but these were refused. 

One person, who asked not to be named, requested an internal review — complaining and asking the council to explain its decision for refusal.  

The person said: “The decision to refuse access does not assist with the transparency and trust, which is so essential for future teamwork to address the climate crisis, between the public and West Berkshire Council.”

In response, Ms Craggs said: “Releasing the minutes and papers of internal meetings would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs by distracting the council from the delivery of its public duty, by diverting resources to deal with resulting requests for action and public concern about proposals.” 

Ms Craggs said that while the environment is ‘of significant public interest’, the EAG may need professional advice. “The risk that the advice will subsequently be published may impact negatively on the manner in which that is provided.

“Any decisions the council proposes to take in respect of matters discussed at these meetings would be progressed through the normal decision-making route. Such decisions may also be subject to public consultation where appropriate.”

Anyone unsatisfied with outcomes of internal reviews can appeal to the Information Commissioner.

The council were asked to comment.