Green West Berkshire councillors today (Tuesday 23 July) published a list of practical suggestions – including a Clean Air Zone in Newbury town centre – for how the council can move towards its target of carbon neutrality by 2030.
The initial list of ideas covers air quality, energy, recycling, transport, tree planting and other issues which the Greens look forward to discussing with the other political parties and council officers.
We also want to hear from the public as we believe it is important for everyone in West Berkshire to be involved in the process of acting urgently to reduce carbon emissions.
The council declared a climate emergency on 2 July in response to a campaign by West Berkshire Green Party and other local groups. An Environment Advisory Group (EAG) was set up and the Green councillors have submitted the following ideas to be discussed at the first meeting of this group.
• Carry out a West Berkshire carbon audit.
• Include a full climate change impact assessment (just as we do equality impact assessments) in officers’ reports, to include the impact of any proposals or recommendations on CO2 emissions, biodiversity, and other environmental factors.
• Organise a climate change action conference in September/October involving experts, local campaign groups, and members of the public. Not just a talking shop – the council must commit to act.
• Allocate a number of council staff to prioritise climate change emergency response tasks. For example: there are many grants available (from the government, the EU, and other bodies) – someone needs to chase up every avenue. Oxford City Council, for example, received a £500,000 government grant for taxi charging points, and £1.7m funding to upgrade buses.
• A small group of EAG members (one from each of the three parties) and officers to visit the following areas to see best practice: Nottingham, Bristol, Stroud, Oxford, Greater Manchester.
• Create a “grant pot” to encourage and enable carbon-reduction schemes within West Berkshire. Companies, charities and other groups would be able to apply, the criterion being CO2 reductions per pound spent.
Air quality – town centre
• Set a target to complete a Clean Air Zone for the centre of Newbury. Specifically, make Northbrook Street and the eastern end of Bartholomew Street completely traffic free by a specified date (we suggest Clean Air Day 2020), in three stages:
1 With immediate effect, extend the traffic-free period at each end of the day from 8am to 6pm.
2 Extend the traffic-free period to three days, ie 8am Friday to 8am Monday, by (say) March 2020 to allow time to work out deliveries, market traders, etc. Liaise with Newbury Town Council over this.
3 Clean Air Zone, emissions-free, takes effect in summer 2020. Then consider how best to extend it.
Air quality – schools
• With immediate effect, update guidance to drivers near schools to say engines must not be left running, pointing out that this is actually illegal, as well as dangerous to their own children’s health.
• Consider introducing fines for those who flout this. (A number of local authorities already do this.)
• As suggested by the Secretary of State for Health, develop vehicle-free zones near schools between 8.15-9.15 and 2.45-3.45.
• Examine and introduce a range of measures to encourage safe walking and cycling to and from school (see Walking and cycling).
• Eliminate all single-use plastics from West Berkshire in three stages:
1 Council offices.
2 Other council-maintained buildings, eg schools, leisure centres.
3 Everyone else – contractors, suppliers, businesses. This would follow a period of consultation in which expert advice was offered to these stakeholders (many of course are already acting to do this).
• Renegotiate contract with Veolia to prioritise recycling and make West Berkshire a leader in the field.
• Specifically, allow more items to be recycled, eg yoghurt pots, plastic trays.
• Expand sale of compost from recycling centres, marketing this effectively to rival garden centres.
• Agree a date for West Berkshire Council’s fleet to be fully electric ASAP.
• Introduce incentives for council employees to leave their cars at home.
• Big increase in charging points, especially in car parks (eg top floor of the Kennet Centre – whole row should be introduced next to the two existing ones).
• Expand Car Club, with more vehicles and in particular more pick-up and drop-off points.
• Investigate how to make Vodafone buses available for wider public use.
• Establish how much it would cost to run a free electric “hopper” bus service between bus station, rail station, retail park etc from the next financial year, and develop a plan to introduce such a service.
• Introduce a workplace parking levy to pay for this and other improvements in public transport. (In Nottingham, this scheme brings in annual revenue of £9m!)
• All West Berkshire-licensed taxis to be electric by an agreed date, to be achieved as follows:
1 Incentives to be offered to firms to go green – eg they get a discount on their licence for each electric vehicle in their fleet.
2 The process, including final date, to be agreed with the trade via discussions with the Licensing Committee and officers.
3 Provide charging points, specifically for use by taxis, at the Wharf taxi rank, rail station, and elsewhere. (Government money may be available for this.)
Trees and verges
• Agree a target, say to plant X thousand trees a year for the life of this council.
• Identify suitable sites, on council-owned, town council-owned, and private land.
• Roadside verges, roundabouts etc to be reimagined with wild flowers and other vegetation to encourage biodiversity and pollinating insects.
• Be ambitious! (Cornwall Council has set aside a 20,000-acre site for tree planting.)
• Starting at home, retrofit the council offices to be a model for whole district: zero carbon, run on renewable energy.
• Accelerate plans for solar roofing on every school and extend to all council-maintained buildings.
• Swimming pools to be heated with renewable energy.
Walking and cycling
• Prioritise safe walking and cycling routes as a healthy, zero-emissions alternative to the private car.
• Link existing and proposed routes (eg the active travel route between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, existing footpaths, canal towpaths, etc) to provide a network for safe walking and cycling right across West Berkshire.
Councillor Steve Masters, the Green Party’s representative on the EAG, said: “This initial selection of ideas offers the council the opportunity to start acting on the wishes of the public. Never before have we seen such levels of interest and engagement from residents who want to tackle climate change. They will judge us by our actions or indeed inaction. The EAG needs to be innovative and energetic. As the Green group’s representative, I look forward to playing my part in delivering on our ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030.”
West Berkshire Green Party believes that the proceedings of EAG meetings should be publicly available, with a presumption in favour of transparency. We want to see the public involved as much as possible. We deplore the fact that the council’s ruling Conservative group, after initially agreeing that the Environment Board would have all-party membership, have now decided to restrict membership to Conservative portfolio holders only.
Green group leader Councillor Carolyne Culver said: “Members of the public have been asking us since 2 July what is happening next. If we say ‘we can’t tell you’ this risks undermining trust, and people will fear we aren’t taking the issue seriously.”