IT’S A PARTNERSHIP that has sorted out the rubbish for the past 14 years, but next year could be its last.
Since 2006, Bracknell Forest, Reading Borough and Wokingham Borough councils have worked together on their waste management strategies, forming re3.
But at a meeting of the Joint Waste Disposal Board held earlier this month, Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr John Halsall warned that we could “part company” with the other two councils if they can’t reach agreement on the future direction of waste and recycling in the years ahead.
He made the comments ahead of a vote to elect a chair and deputy to the board, which met virtually on Thursday, July 9.
Cllr Halsall argued that the board should defer the votes to allow “officers and members an opportunity to consider the best path and the issues”.
“I was apparently the first council leader to declare a climate emergency,” Cllr Halsall told the board.
“Currently our recycling rates are very different with Reading in the mid-30s, Bracknell in the mid-40s and Wokingham in the mid-50s.
“A material part of the global warning agenda is waste. Indeed, David Attenborough says the key to Climate Emergency is eliminating waste.
“Wokingham has commissioned a study to determine a road map to achieve that objective with milestones of 70% recycling in the near term. re3 must be a key part to that.”
He said that councils did not have to go down the same path, saying that unitary authorities can “plot their own trajectory” to suit residents and budgets.
“The preferred choice of course is that re3 adapts to cater for all its partners, flexibly and consensually.
“To do so, we need to address the governance and ensure that re3 is not the fiefdom of any particular authority.”
And Cllr Halsall felt that Wokingham was “by far the biggest contributor of the partnership”.
“Our partnership is coming into its Autumn years and we need now to consider what we wish to do as lead times are long.
“re3 will survive that process if it can find a consensual way of working flexibly with all its partners.
“Failing that Wokingham will, in time, have to part company from its partners.”
Responding, Cllr Tony Page (Reading Borough Council) expressed surprise at the comments, saying: “It would have be courteous to have (Cllr Halsall’s proposal) circulated in advance to have at least been given some notice”.
The committee set aside Cllr Halsall’s suggestion and voted for Cllr Dorothy Hayes (Bracknell Forest) as chair and Cllr Page as deputy.
Cllr Halsall told Wokingham.Today: “We have to decide what to do next. We have commissioned a study to determine this.
“We want to get to rates of 100% recycling, it’s a long-term goal we may never achieve, but I want to make a long-term road map to it.”
He cited the food waste collection service as an example of the three councils’ different approaches. Wokingham introduced it in April last year, but both Reading and Bracknell have delayed implementation: October and March respectively.
“The councils fought tooth and nail against food waste collections, they’ve reluctantly accepted it,” Cllr Halsall said.
“We’re committed to being carbon neutral, recycling is core to that. We can’t recycle unless the processes are on board, and that is re3. They absolutely have to be on board.
“We may have to find our own way: how can we achieve carbon neutrality and our recycling target if we’re not party to the management of re3? Reading and Bracknell have stitched us up.”
He pledged to look for a suitable site for waste management, adding that for re3: “We’re paying the vast majority of the cost”.
“We have a very, very strong vision of where we want to be.
“I’m surprised at Reading, for a Labour council you’d think they would want to demonstrate their climate change credentials, but their recycling rate is really poor. We are determined to get ours up to 70%.”
And he added that the council were looking at ways in which their recycling could be kept dry, to improve recycling rates. There was a problem last winter where centres refused to accept wet waste.
The council is still looking to find a solution to this.
“Wokingham is reaching for the stars with recycling: we want to try and solve the problem of wet waste and hope to do so by late autumn.”
Cllr Page said: “It’s a pity that, as such a new member of the re3 Board, Cllr Halsall has arrived at conclusions that are simply not borne out by the facts.
“The Board has worked well on a consensual basis over many years and is the ‘property’ of all three authorities.
“If Wokingham and Cllr Halsall have any specific proposals then we would be happy to consider them.
“His intervention at the start of the last meeting has not been followed up with any paper or proposals.”
He added: “Cllr Halsall resigned from the board yesterday, which shows how childish and petulant his behaviour has been. He has missed meetings, turned up late and not read the papers on some occasions.
“He’s talking arrant nonsense.”
But Cllr Halsall today Wokingham.Today that he was replacing himself with Cllr Gregor Murray: “It should be him, not the council leader”.
Cllr Page added that he felt the re3 board has been working well, and the Wokingham’s previous board members didn’t have any issues.
“Democracy in Wokingham is very different from in Reading or in Bracknell, but it’s always been understood that we can all learn from each other,” he said, citing the food waste collections that Reading and Bracknell will introduce as examples of this learning.
“The partnership has worked really well. But I’ve only been a member for seven years, so what do I know?”
Bracknell Forest Council didn’t comment on Cllr Halsall’s criticisms of the re3 partnership. Instead, Kevin Gibbs, its executive director for delivery, said: “In line with the 1972 Local Government Act, any decisions made by a local authority committee – such as voting for a chairman – must be on a simple majority basis.
“As such, a chairman for the 2020/21 municipal year was confirmed in line with the committee’s constitution.”