Five-Year Housing Land Supply

I am writing this blog post to try and put into layman’s terms what is meant by the five-year housing land supply.  I am writing this in response to the approach Berkeley Homes have made regarding a planning application they want to put in for approx. 375 homes on the land between Blagrove Lane, Doles Lane and Barkham Road.  Challenging the local planning authority on its five-year land supply will be a key argument Berkeley Homes are likely to make, so I wanted to attempt to explain what it means. 

Let me begin by stating that I’m not a planning expert.  Should any questions arise out of this blog, I will do my best to answer them, but most likely I will need to seek advice from a planning expert. 

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced in 2012, and one of the objectives is to significantly boost the supply of new homes.  In line with this policy, planning authorities need to establish what the need for new homes is in their borough through a government metric (housing quota) and then put a plan in place to deliver that quota.  This plan, referred to as the Local Plan, typically covers a 10-to-15-year period, and Wokingham is in the process of updating their local plan.  Developing a local plan is a lengthy process, taking years, and a lot can change over the course of a local plan with many planning authorities underdelivering on their housing quotas. 

The government took the view that making people wait for new homes whilst new plans come into effect, when there is an immediate need and suitable sites available, makes no sense.  As such, the NPPF requires local planning authorities to demonstrate a five-year supply of land for housing (5 x the annual housing quota) which needs to be updated annually.  These sites need to be specific deliverable sites and need to include a 5% buffer.  This figure could include an additional 20% if there has been previous significant under delivery of housing.  The NPPF however is silent regarding previous over delivery of housing. 

If a planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of land, instead of planning applications being decided based on what local policies say, national policies will take precedence.  This means that the planning authority loses control over where new homes are built.  As long as a site is considered sustainable, planning permission will most likely be granted even if it’s a site the planning authority does not want development on. 

What is meant by ‘deliverable?’

The NPPF states that “to be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now, and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years.  In particular:

a) sites which do not involve major development and have planning permission, and all sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (for example because they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans).

b) where a site has outline planning permission for major development, has been allocated in a development plan, has a grant of permission in principle, or is identified on a brownfield register, it should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.”

In short, a site that has detailed planning permission, or a small site that has outline permission is classed as deliverable.  Evidence would need to be demonstrated for a large site with outline permission to demonstrate that it’s deliverable within 5 years. 

Wokingham’s Situation

The housing quota for Wokingham Borough is currently 768 dwellings per annum.  With the 5% buffer, this brings that figure to 806.4 dwellings per annum, which is 4,032 over 5 years.  Please note that this is based on the figures starting 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2026.  Every year, this is recalculated. 

WBC’s assessment is that 4,115 dwellings were classed as deliverable over this 5-year period demonstrating 5.1 years of supply.  We are just about to start a new year where all of this assessment will be done again, as it needs to be updated annually.  It will be several weeks until we know the outcome of this, so please bear in mind that these figures will shift in due course. 

The Council’s assessment will be challenged on appeal when developers take their proposals to the planning inspector once the planning authority has rejected it.  In all but one case, the Council has successfully defended its assessment of deliverable sites.  In one recent appeal, the planning inspector disagreed and concluded that some of the sites were not deliverable and stated that the council actually had a 4.84-year supply of deliverable housing.  However, the inspector did state that this was modest and that there was a local ‘strong performance on housing delivery.’  The appeal was dismissed. 

There has also been information in the press about the high level of house building in recent years in the borough.  The table below has the number of dwellings built per year:

YearDwellings Completed
2016/17967
2017/181,528
2018/191,284
2018/201,555
2020/211,167

As I noted earlier, the NPPF is silent on previous over delivery.  The timing of delivery of housing is not in the Council’s control but is controlled by developers.  The recent high level of delivery of housing in the borough means that the bank of sites with planning permission has reduced quite quickly.  Unfortunately, whilst the planning system is supposed to be plan-led, this five-year land supply system undermines the plan-led process because it creates opportunities for speculative development.  In my opinion and I’m sure many others, the government needs to address the issue and ensure that over delivery is a key consideration. 

I am, like many of you I’m sure, waiting with bated breath for the council’s assessment for 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2027. 

Preparing for the appeal of the Woodcray planning application.

Domestic Abuse – You Are Not Alone

This is a really difficult blog post to write for multiple reasons, but one that I feel needs to be written.  I started off writing the post to outline the reasons why part of my re-election campaign is about seeking for a review of how specialist services, such as domestic abuse provision, are commissioned by the council.  The publication of the Wokingham Today front page on 17th March however, and my reaction to that, is now going to be a large part of the content of this post as well. I’d like to thank Louise Timlin from the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) for her hard work in holding the council to account on this matter through her persistent public questioning, and publicly raising many of the issues.

For anyone reading this who is a victim-survivor of domestic abuse, I want to reassure you that there is support out there for you.  At the bottom of this post, I have listed a number of agencies and charities who you can contact.  At no point do I want you to feel that due to the failures of the Council’s contracted service provider that I am about to highlight, that you can’t get the support you need, because you can. 

In July 2021, WBC’s new domestic abuse service provider officially started their contract following a competitive tender and 6-week mobilisation period.  At the time of the announcement that a company called Cranstoun had been awarded the contract, initial concerns were expressed.  Cranstoun have never directly provided victim-survivor support for domestic abuse before.  Their expertise is in substance misuse and working with perpetrators.  Contracts that they’ve held elsewhere in the country for domestic abuse provision, the victim-survivor support elements has always been sub-contracted. 

We’re now 9 months into the contract and sadly, the concerns many of us had and raised, are reality, and victim-survivors are not getting the support from Cranstoun that they are contracted to provide.  Other organisations such as Berkshire Women’s Aid (BWA) and Kaleidoscopic have been stepping in to fill the void. 

Before we get onto the refuge debacle, I wanted to highlight other aspects of the service failings.  The service provider is obliged to provide a 24/7 helpline.  It’s supposed to be manned during office hours with an out of hours emergency facility.  I tried the number out of hours myself to see first hand what the experience was and got a voicemail that stated that I needed to leave a message and they would aim to get back to me within 24 hours unless it was a weekend or bank holiday.  There was no further number to call.  I have been told anecdotally that some people have left messages and not got a call back.  I have advised them to put in an official complaint should this be the case. 

The service provider is supposed to provide group support options.  9 months into the contract and the first session was held last week (mid-March 2022) with others coming online in May.  Local charity Kaleidoscopic has thankfully been providing and continues to provide group sessions for victim-survivors ensuring that a strong support network is there. 

The service provider is also supposed to provide IDVA (independent domestic violence advisor) support, yet I met recently with a survivor who has been let down by this aspect of the service and is in the process of submitting a formal complaint.  She has resorted to getting IDVA support from elsewhere. 

It is though the refuge provision that has created the headlines, literally in terms of the Wokingham Today article, and through the many questions raised in public meetings.  The statement that Cranstoun made in the Wokingham Today article that “they are not responsible for providing a refuge provision” is factually incorrect.  The service provider is obliged to provide a minimum of 3 rooms of refuge provision within Wokingham Borough.  Cranstoun have failed to do this and continues to search for suitable provision. 

Cranstoun’s comments in the Wokingham Today article also state that “the refuge provision was withheld by the previous provider when the service went live in July 2021,” which again is misleading.  No assets were to be transferred as part of the contract and Cranstoun submitted their bid knowing this. 

BWA have throughout this period provided the refuge provision, but it wasn’t until November 2021 that they finally started receiving funding from WBC for this.  They were asked to apply for an emergency grant which takes them until March 2022.  Going forward they have been asked again to apply for a grant to continue to provide this service.  They and I have raised with WBC that this isn’t acceptable because they are providing a key service for the council which should be done in a properly contracted way, rather than through grant funding.  Does this also mean that WBC are paying twice for a service that they are receiving only once?  So far, no one has been able to answer this question.  WBC have acknowledged the issues around this, and work is underway to rectify it. 

WBC officers have assured me that they are working hard to rectify the other concerns as well and some very careful contract monitoring is taking place.  I will be watching this carefully and will continue to question and challenge where necessary. 

Going back to my very first comment about seeking a review of how specialist service provision is commissioned, this commitment is as a direct response to what has happened with the awarding of the contract to Cranstoun.  I am not in any way challenging the tendering process once it was started.  I do believe that this was done correctly.  The concern is that a competitive tender process was deemed to be the correct method of commissioning a specialist service.  Ultimately, the company with the best bid writer won, not necessarily the company best placed to deliver what was required.  There are some lessons to be learnt here.

There is a fantastic network of support in Wokingham borough, and I am grateful that organisations like BWA and Kaleidoscopic have been there and do the work that they do.  Should anyone need any support, below are a list of agencies and charities that you can reach out to.  Whilst not a domestic abuse practitioner myself, should anyone reading this want to reach out to me confidentially about anything I’ve mentioned or with any concerns that you would like help with signposting, I can be reached on 07983 701367.  Please know that you are not alone.

Action on Tackling ASB…That Won’t Tackle ASB?!

I frequently come away from council meetings feeling frustrated, but never quite like I did on Tuesday night (8th February).  Tuesday night’s meeting was a call-in.  I have written about a call-in before in the blog post ‘Sackgate’ which related to the council’s decision to change from black recycling boxes to green recycling bags. 

As a reminder, a call-in is a process to decide whether a decision should be looked at again.  The Constitution states that all decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles:

a) proportionality (i.e. the action must be proportionate to the desired outcome);

b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from Officers;

c) human rights will be respected and considered at an early stage in the decision making process;

d) a presumption in favour of openness;

e) clarity of aims and desired outcomes; and

f) when decisions are taken by the Executive, details of the options which were taken into account and the reasons for the decision will be recorded.

This call-in was requested following an Executive Member decision to implement a TRO (traffic regulation order) for some changes to off-street parking in the borough.  Before I get to the reasons why it was felt a call-in was necessary, I’ll explain what a TRO is and what this one specifically relates to. 

A TRO is a legal process that restricts or prohibits the use of the highway network in line with the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.  If you request for example double yellow lines or a change in speed limit, it’s a TRO process that must be undertaken to implement them.  New TROs need to have the full support of the Police who are a statutory consultee, and there is a legal process that needs to be followed before implementation can happen. 

You are probably wondering how a TRO could be controversial, but you may remember the consultation late last year where there was confusion over the council wanting to make the borough’s car parks operational 24/7.  There was a lot of social media backlash because it was assumed this meant that the council would be charging for car park use at times that are currently free.  We were all assured that this wasn’t the case.  This particular TRO states in the report papers the following:

As part of its Borough-wide parking management improvement plan, Wokingham Borough Council needs to make changes to its current Off-Street Borough Car Parks Order. The primary purposes of these changes are to enable the Council to introduce parking controls which enable it to enforce against increasing instances of antisocial behaviour in existing car parks; to provide a separate Order for our existing and new Park & Ride car parks; to respond to resident requests for clarity in charging; to limit the maximum stay permitted at California Crossroads Car Park; and to take this opportunity to incorporate provisions that will enable the Council to designate electric vehicle charging parking bays in any Off-Street Car Parks.

There is more detail in there, including “introducing a new 15-minute initial parking period, without charge at Dinton Pastures Country Park Activity Centre Car Park.”  However, the part that has raised several eyebrows is the Changes to Operating Hours section which states:

The new Off-street Car Parks Orders will enable the Council to take action against antisocial behaviour, misuse and vandalism of public car parks by extending the current, 10hour daily charging period to be ‘At All Times’ and car park operating hours to apply from Mon-Sun (including bank holidays).

This means that all car park users will be required to comply with parking regulations at all times and the Order will permit the Council to issue penalty charge notices to those vehicles in its use car parks as part of anti-social gatherings. These controls will be supported by CCTV and meet the recommendations for deterring such activity made by Thames Valley Police.

The issue of anti-social behaviour in car parks has been making headlines recently with these late-night car meets, mostly in the Carnival car park.  Local councillors have been calling for preventative action so welcome a potential solution. 

However, when Labour councillor, Cllr Shirley Boyt watched the meeting where the decision was made, she had serious concerns.  She followed up with a number of questions to officers following the meeting to alleviate these concerns, but didn’t receive any answers, and as such, along with 4 other councillors, ‘called-in’ the decision.  The reasons for the call-in were stated as have contravened sections 1.4.2 a), d) and e) of the constitution “in so far as it cannot be determined from the information provided, whether the action is proportionate to the desired outcome and there is no clarity of aims and desired outcomes.”

The questions posed (and not answered) were:

  1. What are the recommendations made by Thames Valley Police? Are they proportionate to the problem? What happens where ASB is committed but (as is likely to be the case) the perpetrator does not register his/her vehicle?
  2. This implies that everyone using the car parks in the evening and on a Sunday will have to register their vehicle and check in and out. What evidence is there that perpetrators of anti-social behaviour will comply with this requirement? If they do not, how does this requirement assist with identifying them?
  3. How will this requirement impact on residents who use the car park and forget to check in? Will enforcement officers be active 24/7? What is included in the policy that would avoid innocent residents being fined simply for failing to display a ticket during times when there is no charge for using the car park? How are residents being informed of the change, which will require them to have a ticket at all times, when previously there was no requirement and people used to using the car park would not even look at the ticket machines overnight or on a Sunday?
  4. The supporting CCTV will help to deter ASB, but can it be used to prosecute offenders?
  5. Members have been told variously that the CCTV cameras were installed due to theft of catalytic converters, to reduce emissions caused by queuing cars, and now to deter ASB. Section 1.4.2 d) states there should be a presumption of ’openness’. This is not apparent here.

A call-in is dealt with by the Overview & Scrutiny Management committee, a committee that is politically balanced, and which I am a member of.  It was our role to assess the evidence and decide whether the Executive had followed the constitution, or to send it back to them to reconsider.  In theory, the committee should be independent. 

What happened in that meeting left me completely exasperated at the time, and now I feel very angry.  I spent a lot of time researching before hand and wanted to try and ascertain how making car parks 24/7 operational would tackle ASB.  I also wanted to understand what the consequences of making these car parks 24/7 operational would have on law abiding citizens.  In that meeting, what we witnessed was a masterclass in defensiveness. 

We were told that this TRO isn’t about ASB and Cllr Boyt was asked why she was asking about ASB, when it’s not about ASB.  You can imagine the confused expression on many of our faces.  I did take the opportunity to read out text from the report in front of us which mentioned ASB 19 times and highlighted that it states it was a primary objective.  However, the Executive member and officers held fast and tried to take the focus away from the ASB issue.  What did add further confusion was when one of the Conservative councillors, Cllr R Margetts asked about the delay in implementing the TRO (due to the call-in) had on ASB and we were told that ASB incidents had happened because of this delay.  Independent councillor Cllr Doran summed it up well when he tweeted “Wokingham Borough Council currently pushing through Schrödinger’s Traffic Regulation Order.  It, apparently, wont’ help stop anti-social behaviour in car parks but delaying it will allow more anti-social behaviour in car parks.” 

I wanted to try and understand what making the car parks 24/7 operational meant for users of the car park.  We were assured that this did not mean a change in pricing, but simply that users of the car park had to abide by the car park’s terms and conditions at all times.  This was then contradicted when I queried about the requirement for users to get permits/tickets for their cars even when it’s free to park.  In the case of Wokingham borough car parks, this means checking in on the machines with the car registration.  My fear is that people will forget, because the car park is free, and then get a parking fine for not having checked in.  I was told that people didn’t need to check in, so it wasn’t a problem. 

I found this response odd because the regulations of the borough’s car parks state that users need a permit/ticket and as you may remember, the report stated that the car parks being 24/7 operational meant that “all car park users will be required to comply with parking regulations at all times.”  I pressed on this and kept getting answers that contradicted one another. 

So now we have new parking measures that aren’t about tackling ASB, don’t require people to check in (and thus asking people to comply with some of the regulations but not others), and this leaves me questioning what the point is.  We were told that this gives the council the option of adding in the check in function, but it wasn’t planning on doing it.  Are you as bemused as I am? 

I then asked if this was about generating more income from parking fines because the budget for next year has an increase of £241,000 in parking fine income.  I was immediately shouted down and told this was nothing to do with what we were discussing, and I got no answer.  Make of that what you will! 

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.  We were asked to determine whether to confirm the Executive Member decision or refer the matter back to the Executive Member for further consideration, with recommendations as appropriate.  All Conservatives councillors confirmed the decision and as they have the majority, that’s what happened.  So a TRO is being implemented that is not clear on what it is trying to achieve, and the council is budgeting for a large increase in parking fine income. 

I would like to end by quoting from the Statutory Guidance for local authorities on enforcing parking restrictions

“Civil parking enforcement provides a means by which an authority can effectively deliver wider transport strategies and objectives.  Enforcement authorities should not view it in isolation or as a way of raising revenue.”  And “the objective of civil parking enforcement should be for 100 per cent compliance, with no penalty charges.” 

So I guess we need to watch this space and we will continue to press the council for preventative measures to tackle the ASB taking place in the borough’s car parks. 

Should anyone wish to watch the meeting, it can be viewed here

Have your say on Wokingham’s local plan

As most of you will be aware, Wokingham Borough Council is putting together an update to its local plan.  A local plan is a strategic approach to new homes and infrastructure.  The council did consult previously on the local plan update (LPU), but the proposed garden village of Grazeley became unviable when AWE Burghfield expanded their emergency planning zone.  As such, new sites have been put forward to be considered for development, as well as sites that are to be classed as local green space. 

If you haven’t already done so, this is your opportunity to put in your views on the proposed development sites, green space sites, and more strategically about the approach to development.  Documentation and how to take part can be found here https://engage.wokingham.gov.uk/en-GB/projects/right-homes-right-places-local-plan.  You can also send in your comments to lpu@wokingham.gov.uk.  The deadline for submission is 24th January. 

I am putting in 2 submissions to the consultation in addition to a submission put in collectively by our Liberal Democrat group.  The first, which I have now submitted, is about the council’s approach to development considering climate change and the environment.  This submission was put together with the assistance of colleagues who have expertise in climate mitigation measures and reads as follows: 

  • The aspiration for new development to be carbon neutral is not bold enough.  We should be striving for carbon negative (climate positive) whereby more emissions are sequestered than produced. 
  • The LPU needs to include a plan for how it is going to sequester (through natural carbon capture) the emissions produced by the plan.  This must include not just the emissions produced by homes and transport (which should be minimal), but also the construction process.  The carbon capture plan should take account of the previous point and aspire to making the LPU carbon negative/climate positive.  
  • The council should commission a bespoke carbon assessment of spatial strategy options for new development to provide the necessary evidence in order to adopt a carbon negative/climate positive local plan. 
  • Flood plains must not be built on.  There also needs to be consideration for future areas of flooding.  As we suffer the effects of climate change which sadly are inevitable, more areas will flood, and the LPU must look far enough forward to understand what areas are likely to flood in the future and not build on those either.  We understand that a climate adaptation review has been commissioned as part of this process, so this is information that council should have access to. 
  • Permeable asphalt is now available, so the LPU should stipulate a ban on all non-permeable surfaces and soakaways should be installed rather than rainwater being channelled into drains. 
  • It is imperative that villages remain viable, and consideration should be given to a ‘Viable Village’ model, whereby local villages/parishes have the opportunity to articulate their priorities to ensure that a bottom-up approach is taken.  This would mean the emphasis is put onto what is needed to ensure the villages remain viable, with the infrastructure and facilities required that mean the majority of what those who live in the area need, can be reached quickly and easily.  This would reduce the need for private car journeys. 
  • The LPU needs to be future proofed for emerging technologies and the many advances that we will see, particularly in the green industry, during the life span of this LPU.  The currently adopted local plan fails in that carbon neutral requirements could not be added in any supplementary planning documents because the local plan did not provide anything to ‘hang it on.’  It is imperative this does not happen again, and provision is put in to mitigate against this. 
  • One of the future proof considerations is that of the emergence of transport as a service (TAAS).  With the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and the decrease in car ownership, new development needs to consider any requirements/infrastructure to support this inevitable change. 
  • No new development of any kind should be connected to the gas network.  The majority of carbon emissions from homes come from gas, yet there are a range of viable alternatives to be considered.  National Grid is in the process of off-loading their gas network which is a good indicator that this is not the future. 
  • Provision should be made in the LPU for the use of district heat networks where appropriate. 
  • A ‘fabric first’ approach to construction is imperative to reduce the demand for heating and cooling of properties.  There is little point in heating a leaky property. 
  • As well as stipulating the high level of insulation development has, sustainable construction materials (such as timber) and methods (such as modular) should be required. 
  • Where possible, homes should be orientated for solar gain, and all homes should have energy generation means installed as standard as well as EV charging points. 
  • All homes should have bicycle storage as standard. 
  • According to the Environment Agency, we are in an area of serious water stress.  This proposed LPU should be contingent on evidence demonstrating that a sustainable water supply can and will be provided.  If not, this should be used as grounds to reduce the housing quota to one that is sustainable.  
  • Domestic water demand must decrease in line with government requirements.  Therefore there must be provision in the plan to include technologies that allow this (such as rainwater/grey water recycling). 
  • If possible, the LPU should stipulate that new development and infrastructure is adopted by the local authority.  Having to pay both council tax and an ever-increasing service charge is a huge financial burden to our residents and to be avoided at all costs. 
  • The emphasis on moving about must follow the transport hierarchy whereby pedestrians and cyclists are prioritised.  Where new roads do need to be built, these must be built wide enough so that the various forms of transportation can be fully segregated to ensure safety.  This must consider newer forms of transport such as e-scooters which will become legal on the public highway in the near future.  Any sections that are for private vehicles should be narrow enough to limit speed. 
  • Any SANGs that are required must be fully accessible by foot and bicycle with safe, segregated facilities and safe, secure facilities to store bicycles in. 
  • Planning policy and development control functions need to address the accelerating loss of biodiversity, by producing a developing nature toolkit for developers and mandating a minimum 20% biodiversity net gain which must include provision for maintenance so that gains are not lost. 

The second submission I am close to finishing, and is focused on specific sites including local green spaces (LGS).  The consultation asks for reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the proposed allocation for each site and if the commenter would like to, to suggest any changes.  There is only one proposed site allocation to development in Evendons ward: Millars Business Park (5WK030).  However, there are a number of other allocated sites that sit outside of the ward but have an impact on the ward and those that live within it.  The most notable ones are an extension to the South Wokingham Strategic Development Location (5WW030) for 835 dwellings (this is in addition to the 2,500 houses from the current local plan most of which are yet to be built), the current library site (5WK047) for 15 dwellings, Hall Farm strategic location between Winnersh, Arborfield and Shinfield for 4,500 dwellings and Rooks Nest Farm (5BA032-33) for 270 dwellings.  There are a range of other sites that would have an impact as well which I will be commenting on.  Sites can all be found in the consultation document which can be downloaded here, or can be found on the interactive map which can be found here.   

For anyone wishing to make comments on specific sites, some aspects to consider (and include in your comments where applicable) are:

  • Is the location brownfield or is it countryside;
  • Does the proposal maintain settlement separation or will it create urban sprawl;
  • How well connected is it to public transport links;
  • Is there safe walking and cycling infrastructure connecting it up to local facilities;
  • Is the proposed site likely to create an excessive number of private vehicles on the highways network;
  • How close is the site to local facilities such as schools, supermarkets, medical centres etc;
  • How close is the site to local employment;
  • Is the site likely to be impacted by flooding.

This is by no means an exclusive list, but hopefully provides some aspects to consider. 

There has been a vast improvement in the number of local green spaces proposed as part of the LPU.  I will also be submitting comments on each of the sites in and around Evendons ward which include Leslie Sears field, Viking field, Woosehill Meadows, Fox Hill, Waverley park and Elms Field.  There are some sites though that are not listed and as such, I will be submitting requests to make them local green spaces.  These include Chestnut Park, Woodcray, the land between Doles Lane, Blagrove Lane and Barkham Road, and the land in the Buttercups estate that is enveloped by Laurel Close and Evergreen Way. 

In order to be classed as local green space, the sites need to meet the requirements of paragraph 102 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which are:

  • In reasonably close proximity to the community it serves;
  • Demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance, for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife; and
  • Local in character and is not an extensive tract of land. 

I will be putting in comments that demonstrate these sites meet these requirements. 

For those that haven’t completed the consultation yet, but want to have their voices heard, please remember that you’ve got until 24th January.  Other areas you may wish to consider (which was included in the Lib Dem group response) include allocation of social housing, transport considerations, trees etc.  If you would like to discuss any aspect of this with me, do please get in touch at sarah.kerr@wokingham.gov.uk

Women Just Want To Feel Safe

Earlier in the year I was canvassing in my ward and a man said to me that he thought I campaigned too much on minority issues like ‘women’s stuff.’  I’m not even sure where to begin with the many aspects of that statement that are concerning.  Providing a voice for those less often heard was why I got into this.  I watched with horror at the news when Grenfell Tower was burning.  Those poor people were not listened to by those in power, and it was at that moment I knew I wanted to get more involved in my local community, providing a voice to those that need it. 

To imply that you can campaign too much on an issue also troubled me.  Until the issue has been rectified, you cannot campaign too much.  Maybe he was concerned that campaigning would take me away from focusing on other things, like chasing up on missed bin collections, or vegetation cutting or any of the other concerns I get contacted about frequently.  But it doesn’t.  I work hard for my residents on an array of issues, as well as finding positive ways forward, and I campaign on a wide range of issues alongside that. 

What really irked me is the way he dismissed the concerns women have as a minority issue and that it didn’t require attention. 

I was contacted early in the year by a resident who wrote “I’m a mum of two daughters (young adults).  I’m really shocked at the amount of cat calling and intimidation girls and young women are experiencing in the area.  It seems to have got worse.” 

Hands up if you’re a woman and you’ve experienced cat calling, lewd comments, inappropriate comments about your appearance etc?  I think I was 13 years old the first time it happened to me.  Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of times it’s happened, the number of times I’ve had comments made about my appearance that have made my skin crawl.  I’ve also had far worse (which will be articulated further down in this blog).  And I’m not alone in these experiences. 

The trouble is society normalises the behaviour, so no one batts an eye lid.  Women are seen as objects that can be jeered at, touched for pleasure, and worse.  And the response is that women need to change their behaviours to avoid it.  How is that right?!  Why is it that women are told that the way they dressed was what was wrong?  Er no, self-control on the part of the man/men in question is what’s required. 

I wrote a briefing paper for my Lib Dem group about some suggested courses of action that we could ask the council to take on this matter.  We had a long discussion, and this culminated in my colleague, David Hare, presenting a motion at full council last Thursday.  The motion reads as follows:

White Ribbon UK is a leading charity engaging with men and boys to end violence against women and girls. Their mission is for all men to fulfil the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women and girls.

It is not enough for men to not be violent towards women and girls. Men need to take responsibility for helping to make change happen. All men can help prevent physical, mental or emotional violence against women and girls by speaking out whenever they encounter such behaviour. If men do not act to correct this, women and girls will continue not feeling safe to do many of the thing’s men do without thinking, making us a morally corrupt and emotional poor society, as we trivialise the sickness that is any type of violence against women and girls.

Wokingham Borough Council resolves to:

  • Seek White Ribbon Accreditation for the Organisation within the next 6 months and encourage all male councillors to take the White Ribbon pledge, never to take part in, condone or stay silent about violence against women.  As part of this Wokingham Borough Council will appoint a male Councillor as an Ambassador for White Ribbon.
  • Promote the Our Streets Now campaign to make street harassment of women a crime; ask the Chief Executive to write to the Home Secretary to ask them to make street harassment a specific crime; ask the Chief Executive to write to the four MPs who cover the Borough, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner, to ask them to show their support for this campaign by signing the petition and by lobbying ministers to make street harassment a specific crime and encourage elected members and residents to sign the petition.
  • Ask schools, academies and colleges in the Borough to each develop a clear policy on tackling physical, mental, emotional or spiritual harassment of female pupils or staff, separate to their bullying policy and ask them to include education to prevent public sexual harassment, as part of their PSHE education.

What I am still struggling to come to terms with is the ruling group would not support the motion.  An amendment was circulated which had a male councillor’s name on it, but a female councillor presented it.  The amendment was designed to kick this into the long grass, referring it to some committee to ensure there was no duplication of existing work, and lots of claims in the speeches that there was lots already happening to tackle the issue we’re trying to solve.  They could not unreservedly support action. 

Rachel Burgess (Labour) gave a really impassioned speech.  Both this and all speeches can be found online via this link.  This is the speech I gave:

I echo what Rachel just said there.  This is like the previous amendment: procrastination, no commitment and in the intervening period, more women and girls are going to suffer as a result of this. 

Almost every woman at this meeting tonight, will have survived some form of sexual harassment or assault.  For some of us, it will have been on multiple occasions.  It is such a widespread, daily occurrence that it is rare to find a woman who hasn’t experienced some kind of sexual harassment or assault. 

We are not saying that men don’t get attacked.  What we’re saying is that women and girls are disproportionately the victims of violence because they are women and girls.  I should be able to go out in an evening and not have my drink spiked; I should be able walk through town and not have to hide in a shop until the stalker stops stalking me; I should be able to go away on a business trip and not have my boss try and rape me.  Those are 3 real things that have happened to me. 

Violence towards women and girls stems from the misogynistic culture that is prevalent in our society which has been normalised.  Men who kill women do not suddenly kill women, they work up to it.  There is a direct correlation between the normalised objectification of women and girls, and the harassment and violence we are subjected to.  We too easily as a society brush off the catcalling, the lewd gestures, the inappropriate comments about how we look, the sexist jokes.  We have normalised this, and it must stop now, not once it’s gone to some talking shop. 

I am really pleased that the council is developing bystander and allyship training.  This is a positive step forward.  But it barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done.  The council have adopted an equalities plan, which doesn’t mention women or girls in it even once.  The 3 priorities focus on:

  1. Listening to and learning from our communities
  2. Acting on our commitments
  3. Building a diverse and engaged workforce, where everyone is respected

We are asking you to listen and learn, to act on your commitments, to engage as you’ve promised and set an example as Cllr Halsall said we would.  Please act now on these promises. 

We’re asking that you raise awareness and lobby government to make street harassment a specific crime – you can vote for that tonight; that you work with schools to set up specific policies and education in PSHE specifically on this – you can vote for that tonight; and that this council seeks white ribbon accreditation which goes far beyond what this council is already doing. 

If you genuinely care about ending violence against women and girls, voting against the amendment and for the original motion allows this local authority to be a proactive role model.  As you decide which way you’re going to vote, think about your female colleagues, your mothers, your wives, your sisters, your daughters, your granddaughters.  Vote against this amendment and for the original motion for them.  And I just want to say that I’m so angry at you.  Really angry!

I want to provide some more context as to why I was so angry.  The female councillor who presented the amendment has been jeered at in the council chamber by some of the male councillors in a previous meeting.  The ex-leader of the council, Charlotte Haitham-Taylor, referenced in her resignation speech when she was ousted by the old boy’s network, #metoo and was visibly distressed afterwards by the ordeal she had been through.  I have had officers tell me that they tell female officers when they first start, not to have meetings with certain men on their own.  I personally have experienced very inappropriate behaviour towards myself: inappropriate comments about how I look; late night phone calls trying to intimidate me; I was even told that I was voted in for my appearance only.  When I raised some of the actions internally, I was simply told, “well it’s your word against his.” 

Misogyny is rife and there is no action being taken to tackle it.  We presented a model of how it could be tackled internally, and how this could be used as an example out in the community, so we start to see societal change.  As my colleague Stephen Conway so eloquently put it, whenever the ruling group present a motion, we will try to find reasons to support it (doesn’t mean we always do, but we often do).  However, when we or Labour present motions, they either amend or vote against it.  We regularly hear from the Conservatives how much they want cross party working, but in practice, there isn’t much reciprocity.  And the result of this is decisions are made that are not in the best interest of those we represent. 

So we have a council that has a problem with the way women are treated, a motion being presented to tackle the root causes, an amendment to that motion written by a man, given to a woman to present that ultimately denies there is a problem.  A lot of people are quite rightly angry about this.  This coming Thursday (25th November) is White Ribbon Day.  It’s a national day to raise awareness of the issue.  There is also a meeting of the Council’s Executive that day starting at 7pm in the council chamber.  A group of us from all walks of life are going down from 6pm to demonstrate outside the council offices and to lobby the Executive members to reconsider and make a commitment to ending male violence against women.  I hope those reading can join us.

A Pluralistic Approach to Climate Change

Like many people, I am disappointed and deeply concerned at the lack of progress being made on tackling the climate emergency at every level.  We are running out of time, and already seeing the consequences of that inaction.  Many of you will have seen reports of the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest, and the devastating flooding in Germany and its neighbouring countries.  We also know about the global injustice of the climate crisis, where poorer countries who are the least responsible, are suffering the consequences of our over consumption. 

Climate change is not a future threat but a present-day reality.  Yet there is a huge gap between the global goal set at the Paris Climate Agreement and the actual commitments individual nations have made.  In order to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, global emissions need to be around 25 gigatons of CO2e by 2030.  We are expected to reach 56 gigatons by 2030 by the commitments made by individual countries.[1]  Worse still, of those commitments made, most nations are not on track to meet them, including the UK. 

We are also witnessing issues around net-zero commitments.  Net zero commitments are needed because the only way we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees at this stage with the amount of CO2 we’ve already emitted is with large scale carbon dioxide removal.  Sadly, this has led to a reckless ‘burn now, pay later’ approach, where there is more effort put into offsetting and very little in regard to the required cuts in fossil fuel use. 

Tackling climate change is a global issue, and it requires global action.  It has been widely reported that the UK government decided to break its election promise and cut foreign aid by circa £4 billion.  You may wonder what this has to do with climate change.  The most pressing challenges we face are global including climate change and part of the UK’s foreign aid is used on climate change initiatives.  The International Climate Finance (ICF) pot of money that sits within the foreign aid budget is being increased but this is for developing countries to limit their carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.  Developing countries have very little by way of carbon emissions.  It is developed countries that produce most of the planets carbon emissions, and as such, it is adaptation that developing countries need the financial assistance with.  This however makes no mention of the ground-breaking research projects that the foreign aid budget was supporting that if funded properly, will benefit us all in our quest to limit global warming.  And it doesn’t take account of the net effect from the reduction in the foreign aid budget.  Developing countries are not getting the Covid vaccines they need because countries like ours have cornered the market, travel restrictions have killed their tourist industries and the rest of the aid budget has been savaged. 

At the other end of the scale, we have a national government that does not like local government.  It consistently underfunds local authorities like Wokingham and removes power.  A classic example is in planning and the reforms being proposed that will remove the voice of local communities.  The same is true when it comes to tackling climate change.

In 2012, in response to a government question, a group of experts described how local authorities can show leadership in tackling climate change including through making houses and buildings more sustainable, encouraging low carbon transport and improved waste management.  The Covid-19 pandemic is an example of how important local authorities and communities are.  People on the ground in their communities making decisions for those communities because they know and understand them.  We need national government to wake up and stop centralising power and give it to the people. 

The good news is that most councils have a declared climate emergency and the majority of those councils have set aggressive zero carbon targets.  The disappointing news is that the sector is likely underperforming.  A 2019 report from Friends of the Earth[2] said councils are not doing enough.  UK100[3] said “to enable local government to play its full part and unlock the benefits of climate action in communities across the country, it must be given more powers and resources.”

Local authorities like Wokingham Borough Council have a number of statutory duties that they have to deliver.  These cover all manner of areas including planning, social care etc.  Not one of these duties covers climate change.  And in the government’s 10-point plan for tackling climate change, local authorities are mentioned just once and gives them no new powers to tackle it.  In fact, this 10-point plan pledges £12billion but fails to mention that only £4billion is new money.  Where are the discussions on integrating local authorities into the national plan? 

Councils need to be given the ability and resources to insist on sustainable housing, to incentivise the use of renewable energy, to recycle more waste and to move to low carbon forms of transport. Councils need to be given a clear roadmap as to how they can implement the Government’s ambitious plans.  If not, they risk failure.

For Wokingham Borough Council, whilst waiting for the government to wake up and do the right thing, there is much more it could be doing rather than cherry picking what looks good on an election leaflet.  For one thing, it could be prioritising emission reduction projects over offsetting projects.  And one of the most important steps it could take is to reach out to the community.  I’m not talking about through it’s usual forms of communication which are typically one-way and a box ticking exercise, but through a deliberative process that brings experts and the public together to share and discuss a way forward with everyone on board.  A solution based on sound evidence and pragmatism. 


[1] https://www.unep.org/interactive/emissions-gap-report/2019/

[2] https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/insight/33-actions-local-authorities-can-take-climate-change

[3] https://www.uk100.org/sites/default/files/publications/UK100%20in%202021.pdf

Improvements for Nature

WBC’s Full Council meeting has just taken place.  I sadly couldn’t attend in person as I got pinged by test and trace so am self-isolating until Sunday.  Not all councillors can attend anyway because the venue isn’t big enough to host all councillors with Covid measures in place.  If you don’t attend in person, you can ask questions and take part in debates via Microsoft Teams, but you cannot vote or propose or second motions.  In other words, we can’t fulfil our full duties as elected members for our constituents. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the Mayor announced that we wouldn’t get to any motions in the agenda due to time constraints.  We repeatedly have issues with time running out.  Motions are an opportunity for members of the opposition as well as the ruling group to put forward policy ideas.  As members of the opposition, there are few opportunities for us to be a part of steering the direction of the council and to hold the ruling group to account.  There are motions on the agenda that have been on the agenda for months now.  We have a log jam.  Democracy is not happening. 

Tonight, I was due to second a motion that Cllr Ian Shenton is proposing that we wrote with the assistance of the head of policy at BBOWT (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust).  We sadly didn’t get to it, despite the urgency.  We have of course resubmitted and just pray that we get to it next time.  Here is the wording of the motion:

“This Council formally declares an ecological emergency and will:

  1. Address ecological issues alongside climate emergency actions and ensure that opportunities to gain co-benefits from addressing both the climate and ecological emergencies are maximised. 
  2. Add ecological implications alongside those for climate in committee and council reports. 
  3. Ensure the delivery of biodiversity and environmental enhancements through our planning policy and development control functions by providing guidance through a biodiversity supplementary planning document. 
  4. Strive to enable the development of a 20% mandatory biodiversity net gain policy for Wokingham through the new local plan. 
  5. Create a Developing Nature Toolkit and direct developers to use the toolkit to assist them in demonstrating a net gain in biodiversity, to be used from the very outset of planning new developments, and ideally at the time of selecting sites to acquire for development. 
  6. Re-establish the Wokingham Biodiversity Forum to allow the Council to collaborate effectively with partners and the wider community. 
  7. Where possible, embed ecological initiatives within all council work areas, including Covid-19 recovery projects and programmes. 
  8. Promote woodland planting and rewilding in the right places and with the right species, peatland restoration, natural flood management, wild flower meadows, and habitat creation and restoration. 
  9. Work with local, county, regional and national partners to increase wildlife habitats, green infrastructure and natural capital in Wokingham Borough ensuring robust connectivity between them. 
  10. Manage council services, buildings and land in a biodiversity-friendly manner, including by reviewing the use of harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and taking opportunities to create new wildlife habitats and corridors.
  11. Provide advice for local communities and businesses on how to incorporate biodiversity, green infrastructure and natural capital into Neighbourhood Plans and other initiatives. 
  12. Encourage residents to take biodiversity measures in their own homes by, for example, wildlife gardening and home composting. 
  13. Working collaboratively with the Berkshire Local Nature Partnership, Wokingham Biodiversity Forum, a cross party working group and other stakeholders, produce a local nature recovery strategy and associated action plan with an annual progress report to full council.”

The Mayor stated that he will work with leaders of all groups to try and resolve the issue of not getting to motions.  I just hope that a way forward can be found so we can get the commitment from the council to act on important issues like protecting and improving nature! 

I also didn’t get to ask my ward question due to meeting being extended by 30 minutes (which is constitutionally allowed), being voted down by the ruling group.  My ward question was:

“The My Journey team has developed maps for each school in the borough to encourage more active travel to and from school.  I took a look at the one for my local school, Evendons Primary, and was shocked at what had been put together.  It assumes no children live south of the school, and for those that live north west, actually suggests they walk along a 60mph narrow lane with no pavement.  It doesn’t show the pedestrian crossing or any other paths that can be used, yet shows buses that are seen less frequently than a solar eclipse. 

The school has mapped out where its children live and where the pitfalls are in the active travel infrastructure.  I’ve repeatedly asked for highways officers to meet with myself and the headteacher so we can get a plan in place to make improvements to encourage more walking and cycling.  Please can you instruct the highways team to make this meeting happen?”

On a more positive note, I did get to ask a question of the Executive member for environment:

“This Council, as part of its environmental commitments, needs to ensure that whilst some open spaces like play parks and some roadside verges are regularly cut, it takes the opportunity to improve biodiversity in other public areas by turning them into native wildflower meadows. To ensure that the Council’s grass cutting contractor doesn’t accidentally cut these areas, and to mitigate any complaints from the public regarding perceived neglect of such areas, will this Council please adopt the blue heart plaque scheme, installing these plaques in wildflower sites and issuing a series of public communications to raise awareness?”

The response was that this was a great idea and they will be looking to pursue this.  I also requested, along with Cllr Shirley Boyt, that there is an easy to use system for residents to communicate and nominate sites for rewilding.  It’s very easy to report a problem on the council website, but the same technology could be used for making suggestions of this nature. 

I will work with officers in the background to ensure the positive response turns into positive action! 

How do you get to school?

Apologies for being so quiet of late.  post came up on my Facebook timeline last week that says “Being an adult is basically saying ‘but after this week things will slow down a bit’ over and over again to yourself until you die.”  I posted that 2 years ago and it’s so true. 

So much has happened since I last published a blog post both personally and as a councillor.  And now we’re in the summer holidays with the children home for 7 weeks.  This blog post is a short one about something colleagues and I have been working on. 

Ian Shenton (one of my fellow Evendons ward councillors) and I have been contacted by numerous parents about the accessibility of secondary schools.  For children who live along the Finchampstead Road corridor, getting to school is a mission.  The pavements are narrow, there is no segregated cycling lanes and the road is a heavily used, polluted A road.  There is also inadequate bus provision for school children.  For children living in Evendons East and Wescott West who attend Emmbrook Senior school, they have to get to a bus stop in Finchampstead on Barkham Ride to board.  This is nowhere near where they live.  There is no bus route along Finchampstead Road for them.  We also understand that the school bus to St Crispins is often oversubscribed.

As more housing is built in the area, catchment areas for schools shrink, and now a considerable number of children in the area can’t get into their nearest schools.  There are still school places available, but the schools with places are further away from where those attending live, over 3 miles each way in some cases.  Without adequate walking and cycling infrastructure and bus provision, this leads to more children being driven to school in private cars which has a detrimental impact to congestion levels, air quality and the climate.  Safe, green transport options need to be readily available for our children and their absence is counter to the Council’s declared climate emergency.

The Council is working on it’s LCWIP (local cycling and walking infrastructure plan) which is a strategic project to improve provision in the borough.  The Finchampstead Road corridor has been identified as an area that needs vast improvement.  This won’t be done anytime soon however, and we will continue to work with officers to get the best provision we can for our community. 

For children going to school this September and onwards, we launched a petition as detailed below:

“We, the undersigned, petition the council to commission additional school bus transport for secondary school children living along the Finchampstead Road corridor, ensuring there is a school bus place for every child that wishes to have one.  The additional school bus transport will be routed along Finchampstead Road collecting and dropping off children who live in the vicinity.”

“Currently there is inadequate school bus provision along the Finchampstead Road corridor and poor walking and cycling facilities.  There is a bus to St Crispins but it may be oversubscribed, and children attending Emmbrook have to get to a bus stop in Finchampstead on Barkham Ride to board which is nowhere near where they live. Walking and cycling facilities are very poor with narrow pavements along heavily used A roads and no segregated cycle lanes. Safe, green transport options need to be readily available for our children and their absence will increase car use, with emissions growth counter to the Council’s declared climate emergency.”

Cllr Ian Shenton, Cllr Maria Gee and I spent several hours going door to door to gather signatures and collected 143.  We also have an online e-petition that can be found here https://bit.ly/3dhKRH1.  The online petition currently has 56 signatures, so we have 199 in total.  The petition is being presented to Full Council on Thursday and the e-petition will be closing down tomorrow (Wednesday 21st).  It would be great to get past 200 signatures, so if you live in Wokingham, please do sign.  Even if you don’t have school aged children, this affects the whole community. 

Thank you and fingers crossed! 

Are We On Track For Net Zero Carbon?

When Wokingham Borough Council declared a climate emergency back in July 2019, one of the requirements was for a cross party working group to steer the direction of action.  Like most people I speak with, I hate the thought of the climate agenda being used as a political football and want to see all parties coming together to help address the challenges.  Having had a positive experience with the WBC arts & culture working group, where different parties work together for the greater good, along with external partner organisations and individuals, I was delighted in the summer of 2019 to be invited to sit on the climate emergency working group. 

Sadly, my experience has been quite different.  The Climate Emergency working group has been excluded from the development of the action plan, and our attempts to demonstrate how we could help have fallen on deaf ears. 

As such, my role has become one of scrutiny of the plan rather than contributing to its development.  Like many of you, I am thrilled that the council declared a climate emergency, but I am fully aware that this is an incredibly ambitious goal, and scrutiny of the action plan to ensure it can achieve its goal is paramount.  I am not claiming to have all the answers.  In fact, no one can.  Tackling this threat to our planet requires collaboration and sharing of knowledge, expertise and ideas from a wide range of organisations and people, and part of the journey means that we need to be open to scrutiny and challenge to ensure these plans are robust.  We cannot afford to get this wrong. 

Working with a couple of colleagues, we have been through the published action plan[1] to see how it all adds up.  We know that this is a working document, and it is going to adapt and evolve over time.  We do need to challenge though any anomalies at every stage or we run the risk of going too far down the wrong path and miss other opportunities. 

Our Analysis

Addressing the climate emergency is first and foremost about reducing the amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere.  The currency of this is Kilotonnes (KT), which is thousands of tonnes of CO2 or equivalent.  The stated aim of Wokingham’s plan is to reach “net-zero”, the point at which we are removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we are emitting into it.  Wokingham’s aim is to achieve this by 2030.

The climate emergency action plan (CEAP) starts from a baseline of CO2 emissions for Wokingham Borough in 2017 of 580.9 KT[2].  The intention is to reduce this figure to net-zero by 2030, mostly through measures to reduce CO2 emissions with some measures to increase removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

A large proportion of the CO2 reduction will happen as a result of national initiatives.  Wokingham’s CEAP is responsible for reducing to net-zero the remainder.  Upon analysing this information, we have significant concerns about:

  • The assumptions made for the benefit from national initiatives
  • Overlap between national and local initiatives
  • The legitimacy of some initiatives in the local plan

We believe that the current plan may only achieve around 50% of the goal and that the community is being misled by the Council to believe that the plan is sufficient.

The Contribution of National Initiatives to the Wokingham Plan

The CEAP makes a sweeping assumption that the 5.6% rate of CO2 emission reduction from national initiatives achieved between 2012 and 2017 will continue through to 2030.  This would more than halve emissions.  However, the latest government (BEIS) forecast for national emissions by 2030 is a reduction of less than half of the assumption in the Wokingham plan.  This is the same BEIS that WBC is using as the data source for the current emissions profile of the borough.  Our concern is reinforced by the most recently released data which shows the actual reduction between 2017 and 2018 for Wokingham was only 1.4%, one quarter of what was assumed would happen.

The difference between the CEAP assumption and the BEIS forecast is a further 176kT of CO2 which will need to be removed and is not catered for in the plan. 

The original CEAP (Jan 2020) recognised this issue and that “it is anticipated that the current ‘business as usual’ approach emissions will eventually plateau at a much higher level well before this as most of the ‘quick wins’ will have already been achieved.”  However, in the more recent CEAP (July 2020) this caveat is missing. 

We calculate that this disparity in assumptions on national initiatives will result in approximately 30% of Wokingham’s actual target reduction in emissions being not achieved.

Overlap between National and Local Initiatives

There is little evidence of analysis of the measures behind the national reduction, and we think it is highly likely that there is duplication between national initiatives and local initiatives.  For example:

  • There are substantial reductions assumed both nationally and locally as a result of a shift to electric vehicles. It is impossible to determine the extent to which measures and assumed reductions in CO2 are double counted. 
  • Some of the forecast national reduction will be dependent on local actions.  For example, in order to achieve the government’s ambition of banning the sale of ICE cars by 2030, the necessary infrastructure will need to be in place to support this, which requires involvement from WBC.  This crucial point is not taken into consideration anywhere within the CEAP.

We calculate that 11% of the actual target reduction in emissions falls into this category and needs further analysis to verify its status.

Wokingham’s Local Initiatives

We believe there may be significant double counting between individual measures.  For example, 3 measures each claiming significant reductions in emissions from transport without clarity on the overall between these:

  • A 20% reduction in total distance travelled in private vehicles per individual per year
  • The use of all cars, vans and motorbikes as a mode of transport decreases from 74% (current national/borough average) total miles to 56%
  • 50% of new vehicle registrations by 2030 being electric vehicles

The plan includes a number of initiatives which are being justified in the name of the climate emergency, despite having no apparent, or at best a questionable, link to CO2 emissions.  The most significant of these is the £17M investment in managing road congestion which is claimed as CEAP investment, but no CO2 emission reduction is forecast.  Air quality initiatives are another example.

We have a significant concern over how renewable power generation is treated in the plan. 

  • The generally accepted definition of “Net Zero” is that the amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere (for example by adsorption by trees) equals the amount of CO2 being emitted.  The CEAP includes the generation of solar power and claims that this will reduce Wokingham’s CO2 emissions by 28KT. 
  • Renewable energy projects are an essential part of addressing climate change globally and we welcome this happening in Wokingham.  However, in terms of the CEAP this project must be viewed dispassionately in terms of its impact on CO2 emissions.  The power generated by this project will feed into the national grid as a part of the overall national generation capacity.  It will accelerate the decarbonisation of the national grid but the contribution to the CO2 footprint of electricity consumed in Wokingham is tiny.  No CO2 is removed from the atmosphere in Wokingham, and it cannot be correct to calculate this as an offset against other emissions.[3] 
  • Even if an argument is put forward for the inclusion of this in the CEAP, the assumed benefit will in time reduce as the national generation capability is decarbonised.  The current calculation appears to be based on a legacy value for the carbon cost of generation.

We calculate that this 4% of the actual target reduction in emissions is incorrectly claimed by this measure.  However, this error has been compounded in the July 2020 update to the plan where the benefit of solar farms and other renewable generation appears to have been taken twice.  We think that this, together with measures where the assumptions or plan behind the CO2 reductions are unclear is a further total overstatement by 14% of the actual target reduction in emissions.[4]

Summary

We have analysed the national and local initiatives and assumptions in the CEAP in terms of their likely contribution to achieving the net zero target.  This is summarised in the chart below. 

Conclusion

We conclude that there are multiple issues in the CEAP which, if not addressed, will result in Wokingham missing its net zero 2030 target by a huge margin.  We accept that the CEAP is a working document and expect to see changes in it over time.   We are not claiming to have all the answers to this problem, but we believe that it is essential that the true scale of the challenge is made clear to residents and that a plan for net-zero is based on sound and realistic assumptions.

We would like to see the focus of our efforts and investment being on carbon reduction initiatives, rather than off-setting which doesn’t tackle the problem.  The climate emergency needs to be tackled collaboratively not just within the council, but externally with partner organisations, businesses, the third sector and the public coming together.  And it must be done on a transparent basis. 


[1] https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/council-and-meetings/open-data/climate-emergency/

[2] This excludes consumption CO2 (from the production of goods consumed) and emissions from national rail and motorways within the Borough.

[3] The July 2020 CEAP states that “Installation of a large scale solar farm on council owned land will allow the council to offset its carbon emissions from electricity and gas usage.”

[4] The July 2020 CEAP states “When all the actions in the plan have been implemented, the Borough will still fall short of its carbon zero target by 2030 by 72.67 ktCO2e. This figure has been balanced by accounting for renewable energy generation estimate of -52.8 ktCO2e and the increase of carbon sequestration estimated to be -4.5 ktCO2e.”

A 100% Renewable Future

As I articulated recently in my speech in council, to tackle the climate emergency, we have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, for which we have 2 alternatives.  We can do less of the activities that emit, and we can reduce the emissions of the activity that remains.  

There are many aspects of our lives that we need to tackle in order to reach our goal of carbon neutrality as local communities, as a nation and as a planet.  This article is going to focus on energy production and whether a completely renewable energy supply is possible. 

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is energy from a source that is not depleted when used, such as solar, wind and tidal.  There are some forms of renewable energy that bend this definition slightly such as the energy created from waste (such as anaerobic digestion).  Unlike fossil fuels, the waste generated to create this energy can be replenished during human time frames.[1]

Renewable energy has been used for hundreds of years; The wind powering sail boats, and windmills to grind grain being just 2 examples.  Sadly, humans have turned their attention to polluting, dirty energy sources such as coal, oil and gas, and this is putting pressure on our planet.  We all know the damage this is causing and the importance of moving to renewable sources.  The big question is, can it be done?

Are biofuels renewable?

Biofuel is a fuel derived from living matter and includes liquid, solid and gas fuels.  It is classed as a form of renewable energy (as it can be replenished during human time frames).  The most common biofuel is biomass, which is solid plant material, the most widespread being wood.  Whether biofuel can truly be classed as renewable depends on how its produced, and most have a big limitation – the amount of land they need. 

According to Siham Drissi at UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) “while biofuel initiatives are meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they may affect the ecosystems, water supply and landscape on which indigenous peoples depend, ultimately leading to an increase in monoculture crops and plantations and a consequent decline in biodiversity, food and water security.”[2]

A UN report states that “up to 849 million hectares of natural land – nearly the size of Brazil – may be degraded by 2050 should current trends of unsustainable land use continue.”[3]

Biofuels actually put up the price of food because farmland is switched over to fuel production meaning there is less land available for food.  You could argue that some crops, such as fast-growing trees could be grown on land unsuitable for food crops, so what’s the problem?  According to Danny Chivers, “in practice the companies involved prefer to use the most productive land available in order to maximize their profits.  This means creating plantations on land that is currently covered by forests or used for agriculture.”[4] 

There is also the issue that biomass isn’t actually better when it comes to carbon emissions.  In 2018, a letter signed by nearly 800 scientists sent to the European Union states that “even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries – as many studies have shown – even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.  The reasons are fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is “sustainable.”  Burning wood is inefficient and therefore emits far more carbon than burning fossil fuels for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced.”[5]

Here in the UK, Drax power station, whilst phasing out coal, is now burning wood pellets.  “In 2019, Drax burned 6.88 million tonnes of pellets made from at least 13.75 million tonnes of green wood.  By comparison, the UK’s total annual wood production was just 11.1 million tonnes.”[6]  In other words, Drax is having to import wood pellets and is actually receiving renewable energy subsidies for fuelling climate change.  And let’s not forget the government ignoring the planning inspector recommendation to refuse permission for Drax’s new gas power station as it goes against the Climate Change Act 2008. 

There will be a place for biofuels in our carbon neutral future, but they must be used with extreme caution and we must not let companies use it as a way of greenwashing.  

Can Renewables Meet Our Energy Needs?

There are many out there that will tell you that renewable technologies cannot meet our global energy demand and we will still need fossil fuels to plug the gap.  The problem is that predicted global levels of energy consumption are based on the current trajectory and assume that we will carry on along the same path that we are today.  This path has the wealthy minority consuming the majority of global energy with mass inequality and poverty.  Is this a future we really want? 

The question is not can renewable energy meet our future projections, but can renewable energy meet our future needs.  We need to address how much we really need.   

There is a difference between primary energy use (the amount of energy supplied) and final energy demand (the amount of energy used).  Danny Chivers calculates that “38,500KWh of primary energy in the EU supplies around 27,000KWh of final ‘useful’ energy.  Getting 27,000KWh of useful energy per year in a 100-per-cent renewable scenario would require just 33,500KWh of primary energy per year, because we’d no longer be losing all that waste heat from burning fossil fuels.”[7]  So there is something to be said for efficiency.

Should efficiency solely be restricted to energy production though?  We waste huge amounts of energy.  Many homes are badly insulated, 55% of British journeys under 5 miles are made by car or van[8], and we still produce and discard copious amounts of plastic tat. 

In 2013, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) produced a report called Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future.  The report details a “technically robust scenario in which the UK has risen to the challenge of climate change by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.  It demonstrates that we can do this using only currently available technology, whilst maintaining a modern standard of living, eating well, and meeting our energy demand at all times with 100% renewable UK energy sources.”[9]

There is a section called ‘Power Down’ in the report (from page 38), which demonstrates how we can reduce our energy demand by 60% including more public transport, retrofitting homes and businesses and more local production of produce.  It also requires frequent fliers to cut down on the number of flights they take to the same amount someone on an average UK income does.  What this means is that we can still have a comfortable lifestyle but a less wasteful one with our lifestyles consuming approx. 13,000KWh per person. 

If globally the per capita amount of 13,000KWh was consumed, firstly, it’s important to note that this would be an increase for a large proportion of the world’s population[10] which is a huge positive.  Secondly, renewable energy is underutilised globally, but according to it’s potential, as outlined in the table on page 115 of Danny Chivers book,[11] has the ability with existing technologies (not to mention the advances in technology) to meet global demand if we balance our ‘need’. 

The Dangers of Renewables. 

Simply transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables isn’t in itself necessarily the best approach.  No form of energy is impact free, and whilst renewable technologies are far better than fossil fuels, they must still be used sensitively.[12]  Whilst technologically it is possible to shift to a 100% renewable world, there are still social, political and economic challenges to face. 

The fossil fuel industry has been busy trying to squash renewable energy initiatives.  They only consider alternatives to their dirty business if they can get quick profits and subsidies whilst maintaining their business models.  Companies like BP and Shell have moved into biofuels as it means they don’t have to change their core business practices, and Drax as previously discussed, into biomass.  It’s about exploiting maximum profit with very little consideration for the environment and people.  According to Danny Chivers “if carried out in the wrong way, large renewable projects could develop along the same neo-colonial and racist lines as our current fossil-fuel industry, where the rights of indigenous peoples around the world are trampled in the pursuit of ‘cheap’ energy for the industrialized nations.”[13]

This is one of the reasons why it is Liberal Democrat policy to not just decarbonise our energy, but to decentralise it too, promoting community energy.  Not only is this fairer, but it also helps boost local economies, helps tackles fuel poverty and helps make local energy supply more secure.  The Local Electricity Bill, which is on its way through Parliament, will go a long way to helping with this decentralisation because currently there are disproportionate costs that favour the large energy companies.  Wokingham Liberal Democrats are calling on Wokingham Borough Council to pledge their support for this bill to ensure its acceptance.  The more local authorities that pledge their support, the more chance it has of becoming law.  And we can all benefit from a much fairer way of producing and providing renewable energy. 


[1] Although we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re throwing away more food than we need to create this energy, and as such, this should be limited to unavoidable waste. 

[2] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/indigenous-peoples-and-nature-they-protect

[3] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/hundreds-millions-hectares-nearly-size-brazil-face-degradation

[4] Chivers, Danny, Renewable Energy: Cleaner, Fairer Ways to Power the Planet, 2015, New Internationalist Publications Ltd. 

[5]https://www.dropbox.com/s/l8sx5bl0h02x395/Scientist%20Letter%20on%20EU%20Forest%20Biomass_ENGLISH.pdf?dl=0

[6] https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/axedrax-campaign/#easy-footnote-bottom-1-9267

[7] Chivers

[8] https://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/wiki/cycling-is-not-practical-for-the-transportation-or-commuting-needs-of-most-people

[9] https://cat.org.uk/info-resources/zero-carbon-britain/research-reports/zero-carbon-rethinking-the-future/

[10] There are disparities with current energy consumption per capita with wealthy countries consuming substantially more energy than poorer countries.

[11] Chivers

[12] For example mining for raw materials or the displacement and destruction caused by hydro-electric dams. 

[13] Chivers