Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Climate emergency is my priority, says new leader

Climate emergency is my priority, says new leader

A WARGRAVE councillor has been made leader of Wokingham Borough Council.

John Halsall was appointed on Wednesday last week, succeeding Julian McGhee-Sumner, who lost his seat at the elections earlier this month when the Conservatives retained control of the council.

Councillor Halsall, who was formerly executive member for environment, leisure and libraries, was elected in the Wargrave, Remenham and Ruscombe ward in 2011. He is also chairman of Remenham Parish Council and a member of Wargrave Parish Council.

Cllr Halsall is the third leader of the council in the last six months, following Cllr McGhee-Sumner and Charlotte Haitham Taylor, who was forced out by her Conservative colleagues in November. He says that his priorities as leader will be to:

• Seek cross-party support to declare a climate emergency in the borough and set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

• Challenge the housing targets being imposed on the borough by government and progress the local plan update.

• Provide homes for residents on median income and promote rural exception homes.

• Tackle congestion and promote sustainable travel.

• Protect the countryside in the borough.

Cllr Halsall said: “I am enormously humbled to have been elected leader of the council.

“We are here for one purpose and one alone, which is to serve our residents and provide the very best services for the optimal cost.

“My priority is our environment, be it housing numbers, development, congestion or climate emergency, and on these I hope to receive other parties’ support. In the last 20 years the impact of climate change on our world has changed conditions far faster than ever imagined.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our society.

“We’re running out of time but there’s still hope. I believe that if we better understand the threat we face, the more likely it is that we can avoid such a catastrophic future.”

Last year, he set up the Campaign to Protect Rural Wokingham, a group opposing housing developments in the borough’s green belt.

Cllr Halsall said: “We are indeed fortunate to live in this beautiful and vibrant part of the United Kingdom. Wokingham borough is consistently among the best places to live and to do business.

“We have a superb team of directors and officers who have in the past achieved miracles and done so with very limited resources. I am sure that I can rely upon them to reach further and deliver a very ambitious programme for this administration.

“This will be a very active year with huge ambitions for change when some of the Wokingham town centre regeneration will be concluding when we will continue to have pressures on funding.

“However, this is a wonderful borough; we all have much to be proud of and be grateful for. I am pleased to present my administration and am particularly pleased that it includes members of the Independent group.”

Cllr Halsall, who is married with three grown-up children, is a chartered accountant who moved to Remenham from Henley almost 40 years ago and has served on the parish council for more than 20 years.

He succeeded fellow Conservative Claire Stretton on the borough council in a by-election before being re-elected in 2012 and 2016.

He was appointed to the cabinet with fellow ward councillor Graham Howe, who lives in Wargrave and was elected in May last year.

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