The leader of Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) has threatened to quit a waste partnership with Reading Borough Council (RBC) and Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) in a row over recycling.

Councillor John Halsall, WBC’s leader, has criticised RBC’s recycling ambitions and raised concerns over the difference of vision between Wokingham and the other two councils.

He said the recycling rates in the three areas are very different, with Reading in the low-30s, Bracknell in the low-40s and Wokingham in the mid-50s.

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WBC has commissioned a study to work out how to achieve a 70 per cent recycling rate by 2025 and how it might be possible to reach 100 per cent one day.

Speaking to the Chronicle, cllr Halsall said: “We may never get there because it may be impractical, but it is the ambition to get there as quick as possible.

“Unless we have a common vision about what we are trying to achieve, we will have difficulties.”

What are each of the council’s plans to increase recycling?

Reading Borough Council (RBC) and Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) have both set a target of a 50 per cent recycling rate by the end of 2020, while WBC has already achieved this.

WBC introduced food waste in April 2019 while RBC and BFC are set to begin collecting it in October this year and February 2021 respectively.

Wokingham has ambitions to recycle 70 per cent of its waste by 2030 – and at some point 100 per cent – while RBC wants to get to 65 per cent by 2035 and BFC has targeted 65 per cent by 2030.

Why is Wokingham unhappy with the partnership?

The joint waste partnership board, which oversees Re3, voted to keep a Bracknell councillor on as chairman at a meeting two weeks ago, leaving WBC without a major role on the board.

Cllr Halsall had proposed to delay the decision until the next meeting in three months, but the supporting officer, who is employed by BFC, said the board should stick to the constitution and appoint a chairman.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Halsall said RE3 will survive “if it can find a consensual way of working flexibly with all its partners” but otherwise Wokingham “will in time have to part company from its partners”.

The board chose to re-appoint BFC councillor Dorothy Hayes as chairman, with Reading’s councillor Tony Page taking the deputy role.

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Speaking to the Chronicle, Cllr Halsall said his statement at the meeting was intended to indicate the direction in which WBC wants to go.

He said: “We are passionate about climate change.

“The important thing is we want sufficient flexibility to be able to pursue this target of 100 per cent recycling.

“The difficulty is the difference in vison. I am genuinely surprised that Reading, a Labour council, has such a paucity of ambition in terms of recycling.

“If partners have a different vision, they should question whether they should be partners, or they have to come to a common vision.”

The Wokingham leader said he believes the chairman, deputy and officer support roles should rotate between councils and he did not put forward a candidate because RBC and BFC “had already decided what they wanted to do”.

He said he believed not having had a key role on the board in recent years had impacted WBC’s recycling rates.

But Cllr Page responded: “The only thing that has impacted their ability to recycle more is the way they organise themselves.”

How have the other councils responded?

Cllr Page told the Chronicle: “John Halsall is living in a fantasy world. He just resigned from the board [on Wednesday].

“He has been on the board for five minutes. The first we heard was that statement.

“We have always operated on a very collaborative basis. If and when Wokingham brings any serious proposals on paper, we will look at them.”

But Cllr Halsall said he had spoken to Tony Page previously about his concerns and did so again the night before the meeting.

Cllr Page called the WBC leader’s threat to leave the partnership “Boris Johnson-style bluster” and questioned how the council would recycle when the two Re3 centres are in Reading and Bracknell.

The deputy leader added: “There are some things to be learnt from Wokingham, but its demography is very different from Reading.”

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He described WBC’s paper recycling scheme as “shambolic” and said they could change that tomorrow, describing the council as a “thoroughly dysfunctional” authority.

Paper in Wokingham is currently picked up from outside houses in open boxes, which means it gets wet.

Cllr Halsall told the Chronicle changes to wet paper recycling is one of its plans to help it get to 60 per cent and said Reading should explain why its recycling rate is so low not concentrate on Wokingham’s.

Meanwhile, Cllr Hayes put a statement which expressed her support for partnership as “the best way to deliver high quality, cost-effective services for residents” and allow a “greater mix of skills and experience”.

She said the Re3 joint waste board has allowed the three authorities to share resources and maximise their buying power in the market, with each partner benefiting proportionally from the relationship and everyone’s contributions equally valued.

Cllr Hayes added that she is “delighted again” to have been elected chair for the 2020/21 municipal year and her focus is on maintaining a successful, ongoing partnership.