Fears have been raised that we could all be ‘burnt to a crisp’ long before climate crisis targets are met in Reading.

Back in 2019, Reading Borough Council declared a ‘Climate Emergency’, setting itself a target of being a net zero carbon Reading, and a net zero carbon council, by 2030.

But the question of whether the council really is doing all it can to address the issues sparked a fierce debate after councillors received the latest report on its climate emergency strategy.

The report stated that there has been a 55 per cent reduction in Reading Borough’s carbon footprint between 2005 and 2020, the latest year for which data is available.

That represents the fourth largest reduction of 374 UK local authorities.

Additionally, the council was named one of 19 UK councils and 122 cities worldwide that was given an ‘A rating’ by the Carbon Disclosure Project, which gave the council the ranking for its transparency on environmental reporting and producing a climate adaptation plan to demonstrate how it intends to tackle climate hazards.

The report was welcomed by councillor Andrew Hornsby-Smith (Labour, Church), who praised council officers for the work that’s been done to reduce the town’s environmental impact.

But the council came in for a long list of criticisms by cllr David McElroy (Green, Redlands) who argued the bar for  ‘emissions within the scope of influence of councils’ is way too low.

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Cllr McElroy pointed out that:

  • The council has raised bus fares by 10/20p for singles and 30/40p for returns
  • Approved plans to build homes on greenfield sites, particularly in Emmer Green
  • The council has only assisted 28 people to retrofit their homes as part of the Green Home Grant

He also complained about ‘foul air’ around the IDR.

Cllr McElroy said: “There are still a lot of cars, when cyclists living on the south side of Reading need to risk their lives cycling through a taxi rank and bus exchange just to get to the station.

“Given the reality I’ve just outlined, the lack of aspiration or urgency, that much of the more difficult things the council has at least a not insignificant indirect influence upon are conveniently out-of-scope.

“I unfortunately still believe this is greenwashing, which is a shame because this behaviour simultaneously diminishes the efforts of those champions who are taking action, while giving a free pass to those parasites who are not.”

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The council’s progress in reaching its climate crisis targets are reviewed annually.

It was then that cllr McElroy used apocalyptic language to describe the council’s perceived failings.

He said: “I can’t believe a whole year has gone by since my last rant on this agenda item, and at this rate, we are going to be burnt to a crisp with our ashes washed away in a flood long before we hit that zero-carbon target, this is not an emergency response.”

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Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) lead councillor for climate strategy called the speech “drivel” that reminded him of speeches from hard left wingers during his student days.

Cllr Page said: “It’s the impossibilist agenda, it didn’t matter what was delivered, it was always never good enough.”

The exchanges took place at its strategic environment, planning and transport committee on November 16.

Members noted the report on the climate emergency strategy at the meeting.