Austin Davies: ‘Broad grins’ as Greens take victory in Mid-Suffolk

Newly elected Cllr Austin Davies on Mid-Suffolk District Council tells Green World about his local election campaign experience

Cllr Austin Davies
Cllr Austin Davies
Describe the current political structure of your council.

Mid-Suffolk District council is a hung council. At the May 2019 elections, the Greens gained 12 seats and formed a group with the Lib Dems, who have five. The Conservatives have 16 and, together with one Independent Councillor, they form the administration. They fill the cabinet and have also taken the chair and vice-chair positions on all the committees apart from overview and scrutiny. So at full council, any contentious issues are decided by the casting vote of the Conservative chair – this provides a lot of political tension at times, though in other areas there is some cross-party agreement. The seat I contested fell vacant when one of our Green councillors moved away from the area for family reasons and stepped down. It is a two-member ward that in 2019 returned one Green and one Conservative Councillor.

What was your experience of the election campaign? How did it feel to win?

It was an enjoyable campaign – I worked with a team of like-minded people, and it was a great chance to hear the community’s concerns. The campaign strategy and literature were designed by our group leader Andy Mellen, who had just been to GP Campaign School and was able to put his training to immediate use. Essentially it was a two-horse race with the Tories, we were defending the seat and we pushed our simple campaign messages (Greens win here, Greens work hard for you) in our literature and social media. Adrian Ramsay came down to get the campaign started but sadly I was isolating that day and missed him! At the count, Covid restrictions limited the numbers that could attend to me, our agent and my lead campaigner. We started off smiling but nervous about whether we had done enough to win – these turned to broad grins as the size of our victory became clear – I didn’t stop smiling for a week!

What are the green issues affecting your local area?

Over-development is the main one, particularly for Thurston, the main village in the ward, and other large villages across the District. We have a much-delayed Local Plan in process but in the meantime, many large developments have been given permission. Mid-Suffolk has declared an aspiration to be net-zero carbon by 2030 but they are focused only on the Council’s own emissions, not those of the wider district. There is little support for retro-fitting insulation or installing solar panels, apart from on some of the Council’s properties. Poor public transport and limited facilities for active travel are also big issues.

What do you hope to achieve in the coming years as a Green councillor?

Improve the health and well-being of both our youth and elderly communities. Hold back the overdevelopment. Improve our communities by using some of the CIL money (Community Infrastructure Levy). The development already underway has produced several million pounds which are sitting waiting – the community expects and needs this to be spent on infrastructure. 

To what do you attribute the growing interest in Greens in your area?

Our first Green councillor, Andrew Stringer, was elected in 2003 and we have continually gained seats since – we are definitely the main alternative to the Conservatives in Mid-Suffolk and our councillors work hard representing their communities and trying to deal with residents’ problems. People are increasingly aware of climate change and want to do something about it, but are frustrated by the lack of leadership and support. We hope to gain even more support when we have all-out elections in May 2023 – or at any by-elections which come along in the meantime.