Two years since Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) climate emergency declaration, what has been achieved?

The climate emergency declaration committed the council to play ‘as full a role as possible’ and ‘lead by example’ in achieving a carbon neutral Reading by 2030.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke to three climate campaigning groups to find out their view on the council’s record since the declaration in February 2019.

READ MORE: Climate emergency declared in Reading with aim to eliminate carbon emissions by 2030

And we spoke to RBC lead member for Environment Cllr Tony Page to get his response.

Cllr Page said: “I think we will meet the 2030 target but it won’t be easy and it will require government support or the ability for us to raise more money locally to invest in projects that enable us to produce a cleaner and green environment locally.”

Extinction Rebellion Reading (XRR)

XRR Reading were one of the groups leading the charge to get the council to declare a climate emergency a few years ago.

Michael Sage, speaking on behalf of Extinction Rebellion Reading, said: “At the present rate of progress, we will not reach the objective of net zero carbon by 2030.

“The public are concerned about climate change and the health of their environment and they want to do something about it.

“RBC’s effort therefore should be more proactive and focussed. They need to mobilise the public and political will and have the courage, creativity and energy to meet the challenge.

“The pace has been slow due to the pandemic but also due to RBC’s “business as usual” approach.

“A great deal of talk and discussion has taken place in the last two years, however, at present, not much appears to have changed outwardly.”

Climate emergency demonstration with councillors Tony Page and Jason Brock and Extinction Rebellion

Climate emergency demonstration with councillors Tony Page and Jason Brock and Extinction Rebellion

Cllr Page said: “I entirely reject that we are not doing enough. We have one of the best records in the country for reducing emissions.”

And he said the suggestion the council has a ‘business as usual’ approach is “rubbish” and there is “no lack of ambition”.

On a more positive note, XRR praised the launch of the Reading Climate Emergency Strategy 2020 – 25, calling it a detailed, well-structured strategy and action plan to reduce emissions across a wide range of areas.

They also noted the introduction of food waste collections, spending on the Green Park and West Reading stations and RBC’s active support of the Reading Climate Change Partnership, which facilitates cooperation between public sector, private sector, voluntary organisations and private citizens.

But they said RBC should drop “outmoded policies” such as the conditional support for Heathrow expansion, the expansion of the MRT system, the third Thames river crossing “which would increase net carbon emissions due to the construction process and generate more traffic and would also result in the loss of wildlife habitat and environmental degradation”.

Cllr Page said Heathrow expansion is “pretty much dead because of the pandemic” and the council will review its position.

And he said the third Thames bridge and MRT systems are for the benefit of public transport and a feature in all major towns and cities across the UK.

Mr Sage also said “hard to solve problems” like the retro fitting of private housing to achieve net zero carbon “are not being prioritised”.

But Cllr Page said retrofitting of private sectors needs to be funded by the government.

Reading Cycle Festival

Andy Vonglehen, an organiser of the Reading Cycle Festival, said: “The declaration a couple of years ago didn’t really commit Reading to anything big. It left the ball in the government’s court largely.

“But that is not to say they haven’t done a lot. The map for cycling and walking to school is wonderful. And the recent switch to food waste collection should make quite a big difference.”

He praised the new Green Park railway station and the maintenance of the bus network but said the council should be more ambitious on cycling and reducing traffic, calling aims for a 10 per cent increase in cycling and a 20 per cent decrease in traffic by 2036 “very minimal”.

Climate emergency demonstration

Climate emergency demonstration

However, Cllr Page said these are pre-pandemic targets and will be “considerably enhanced” in the final local transport plan, which is set to be finalised in the next few months.

On the temporary active travel cycle schemes put in place last year, Mr Vonglehen said these are a “good attempt” but said painted cycle lanes “generally aren’t very good”.

He said: “They make things a lot more dangerous because you think you are safe but you are actually quite vulnerable.”

The LDRS spoke to Mr Vonglehen before this week’s announcement of the consultation on long-term active travel schemes.

READ MORE: How you can vote on Reading Borough Council walking and cycling schemes

Cllr Page said this consultation will allow the council to implement one or two schemes but also put it in a “very good position to bid for future funds that we have been promised will come next year”.

And he said the schemes emphasise its “commitment to be radical”.

Reading Friends of the Earth

The group says the Reading Climate Action Network’s Climate Emergency Strategy for 2020-25 details “ambitious actions”.

But RFOE added: “While it addresses well the majority of the issues, it does not commit the council to take account of the climate in all its decisions and actions and does not contain specific targets or milestones for reducing emissions.

“Also, it is not clear where all the resources to implement the strategy will come from. It only says ‘the ambitious target of net zero by 2030 can only be achieved with substantial policy changes from national government’.”