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Council declares emergency over climate change

‘Possibly the most important motion that may have ever been put to council’ was passed at the Town Hall on Tuesday (June 25).

Councillors declared an environment and climate emergency, committed to achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050 and agreed to establish a cross-party working group to achieve its goal.

The motion was triggered by a petition launched by the RBWM Climate Emergency Coalition (CEC).

The petition, signed by 2,350 people, asked the council to declare an environment and climate emergency and reduce carbon emissions in the borough to zero by 2030.

About 50 members of the RBWM CEC gathered outside the hall lawn prior to the meeting before they moved inside to hear the debate.

Councillors who spoke at the meeting acknowledged the group, and members Maria Evans and Sarah Bowden, for putting forward the petition and prompting the motion.

Presenting the motion at the council meeting, Cllr Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham) lead member for sustainability, waste services and economic development, said: “I now come to the motion which is possibly the most important motion that may have ever been put to council”.

He said ‘the delivery of net zero carbon emissions is not a political issue but a welfare issue’.

“Our action plan needs cross-party support and involvement. Tonight we can fire the starting gun on making a real difference,” he added.

Although the plight of the environment was unanimously supported thoughout the evening by all councillors, they were divided on the amendment put forward by Cllr Karen Davies (Lib Dem, Clewer East).

Cllr Davies said because ‘the majority of councillors’ signed the petition with a 2030 target, she proposes to change the target date to this.

She said that out of 90 councils in the UK, 60 have declared ‘a climate emergency setting a date of 2030 or earlier’.

The deadline for 2050 is in line with the government’s commitment to net carbon emissions.

She added: “26 of us councillors signed a petition to declare a climate emergency with a date of 2030 so I would just wonder why you would sign that position a couple of months ago and then not to vote the motion.”

But council leader Simon Dudley said the amendment was ‘out of line with government policy’.

“The financial consequences for the Royal Borough may be cataclysmic in terms of our finances and our ability to support our services” he said.

Cllr Geoff Hill (The Borough First, Oldfield) said he thought it was ‘wrong to put up a financial barrier’.

“We may not hit the target and we may hit the target but we’ve got to work at it and try” he said.

Cllr Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents' Association, Old Windsor) said: “I can see that there may be financial implications in the future but I still think we should set that target date.

“There is no way this council would allow itself to become financially unstable to reach that target.”

Councillors voted on the amendment to change the target date of the motion from 2050 to 2030 but it was not passed – 18 councillors voting for but 23 against.

Debating the original motion, Cllr  Stuart Carroll asked Cllr Clark to commit to reporting back ‘about the practicality of setting a more ambitious target’.

He said: “That would then give us the information to take a more informed judgement about 2030 versus 2050.”

Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill) said he will write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask him to explain the costs and consequences of a 2030 target and whether that proposal could be met.

He also said that he ‘heard very little positive from the members opposite to agree to  join such a working group and to work together on the objectives of this council’.

This was a view that seemed to be echoed by Cllr Clark who said they were not there to have ‘a climate change auction about how low can you go on the number of years it’s going to take to become climate neutral’.

He said: “We have got 47 per cent of our carbon pollution coming from vehicles, the government will phase out diesel engines by 2040.”

He added: “Yet you want a 2030 target when we’re net-neutral. How do you intend we do it? I’m going to hear silence.

“What’s the plan, what’s the cost, what’s the budget, how much of those people who can only afford a car every five years or ten years, are you going to pay for their new vehicle?”

He added: “This motion is very pragmatic, it is ambitious.”

“Anybody who wants to speak against that, if they do not have evidence to back up how they can make it better, they should stay silent until they do.”

The vote took place and every councillor voted for the motion apart from Cllr John Baldwin (Liberal Democrats, Belmont) who was out of the room at the time.

 

Other matters discussed at Tues-day’s meeting included confirmation of the re-introduction of supplementary questions at council meetings.

In April, the council said it would revisit a controversial decision to ban supplementary questions from members of the public.

At Tuesday’s meeting it was also agreed that council members could ask supplementary questions again.

A public question was posed by Adam Bermange over early proposals for a spur road over the Town Moor.

He asked Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) if the environmental and ecological impact on the wildlife there would be a priority.

Cllr Johnson replied: “No decision has yet been made whether the link road will be progressed or not.

“It’s still a work in progress.”

He said if it were to go through, the planning process would involve environmental and ecological assessments and he would be prepared to go beyond the statutory minimum.

Other motions put forward included one to turn the controversial Vicus Way site, earmarked for a car park, to ‘a mixed development of commercial premises and housing’.

Cllr Helen Taylor (The Borough First, Oldfield) said: “The residents ask that this site be used for something that will  benefit and enhance the local community’.

The motion was rejected, as was a motion put forward by Cllr John Baldwin (Liberal Democrats, Belmont).

He proposed that the homelessness charity Brett Foundation permanently sites its bus outside the roller gates of John West House, without charge.

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