Could West Yorkshire’s next Mayoral team be Green?

“Greens have shown for years we have known the problems facing us as a civilisation – now is the time to let us deliver the solutions.” Green Party mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire Andrew Cooper and deputy mayoral candidate Hawarun Hussain discuss a number of key issues and how Green leadership is a step in the right direction. 

Hawarun Hussain and Andrew Cooper
Julia Lagoutte
Congratulations for being selected as the Green Party’s candidates for Mayor and Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire! Could you tell us a bit more about yourselves and what made you both get involved in politics?

Andrew: For me, it was a desire to tackle abuse of power. I had seen both from Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives and the Labour Party on the local Council. They each had an authoritarian approach and an assumption that they had a right to power which felt very anti-democratic. For me, politics needed to be respectful and cooperative, where politicians of goodwill came together for the common good. Where that didn’t exist, that meant taking on authority, the bullies and the autocrats.

I joined the Green Party in 1988. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to get elected as a Green but that it would mean a lot if I did. I was first elected as a Green Party Kirklees Councillor for the Newsome Ward in 1999 and have been re-elected at each subsequent election. I obviously love representing all the communities in my patch and I’m pleased they have stuck with me over the years.

Hawarun: I have been a party member since 2003 and had the privilege of serving as a Green Party councillor representing Shipley Ward from 2004 to 2018.

In 2007, I became the Deputy Lord Mayor of Bradford – making three firsts in the process. I was the first Green Party councillor to take up a civic role in any metropolitan authority in the country; the first Asian woman to take on the deputy role in Bradford; and the first Bangladeshi heritage councillor in the city to wear any civic chains.

Climate change is on the public agenda like never before. I feel the urgency to ensure that our region – one of the most populous in the country – is the most ambitious in putting forward policies to tackle climate breakdown. Some of our Labour Councils may have declared climate emergencies, but they are continuing to push forward with policies that will make this problem worse.

The Labour Party representatives within the current regional body, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, are so obsessed with building new roads. (During 2020 they had allocated two-thirds of the regional development budget on road building.) My key message on this subject is to promote the need to be reducing vehicle movements through promoting active travel (walking and cycling), delivering reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport, and through sensible planning policies.

My background is in public health. I was a community development volunteer for several years before joining the NHS and specialising in public health. I am passionate about tackling our air pollution crisis and intend to use this campaign to promote the role of West Yorkshire Mayor and to ensure that air pollution is right at the top of the agenda.

How are you coping with lockdown – and what has the situation in Yorkshire been like?

Andrew: Well, I have been working from home – or is that living at work? Lockdown has been busy and, of course, in West Yorkshire we have been under tougher restrictions than a lot of other places. On a personal level, I’ve done lots of walking in the hills around where I live and discovered the joys of gathering and cooking with wild garlic. The local Green team has been helping out with food distribution to households in need. We have helped locally owned businesses by getting the Council to give Council business tenants a rent holiday. I’m on Kirklees Council’s Outbreak Control Board so that means input in how we respond to the crisis on a day-by-day basis. It has made political leaders in our area come together. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t – but it’s good that it happens this way.

Hawarun: I have been working from home as most of the population… my job in the NHS has been busy to say the least. Back in March when we went into lockdown I had to cancel my annual holiday, then got very busy with setting up the Pharmacy Delivery Support service for the local population in Bradford. I worked with both statutory and voluntary sector organisations to develop and mobilise the provision. It made me feel good to be involved in something tangible and gave me a focus.

We in Bradford have been in and out of lockdown – be it national or local – like a yoyo. During the summer, we went back to delivering the business-as-usual elements of the local NHS commissioning organisation, understanding fully well that things will get more difficult during autumn, both as the schools reopen and the cold weather kicks in. 

This is the first time West Yorkshire will have a Mayor. Tell us more about this new role and what your priorities would be as a Mayoral team.

Andrew: The new Mayor will have a big role in investment in transport. At present, Labour in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority spends most of the £800 million budget on road projects, so we obviously want to change that with a much greater emphasis on active travel and public transport. The Mayor will also have a big involvement in the plan to deliver a Zero Carbon Economy by 2038. We, of course, would like that to be achieved by 2030, in line with the climate science evidence. I have proposed the Mayor establishes a Green Building Fund to ensure that all public-sector building projects are constructed to Passivhaus standard, delivering an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared with buildings constructed to building regulation standards.

Hawarun: As a fellow Green like Andrew, my passion is to reduce road traffic, tackling air pollution and getting to grips with climate breakdown. This grotesque mis-prioritisation of funding by the current regional body (West Yorkshire Combined Authority) needs to be fixed. We must make promoting active travel a priority. This is better for our health and the health of our environment.

Our very own longitudinal study carried out by the Born in Bradford research project in October 2012 and the more recent study in March 2020 has identified a number of concerns linked to air quality and lack of regular physical activity (and, of course, the link to COVID-19). 

There needs to be a dramatic increase in the use of public transport. After years of cuts to buses and shambolic mismanagement of our region’s rail network (thanks Northern!) and now the challenges brought about by coronavirus, there is a real danger that public transport use could plummet. The only way to reverse this is to ensure that we provide reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport that is safe and easy to use. We need to be investing these millions (from WYCA) into building even more stations, increasing capacity on our rail network and connecting the bus and rail network to make it easy for the service users.

The coronavirus crisis has shown us that change is possible. Now, all we need is the leadership and political will to make it happen. 

Tell us more about the Yorkshire devolution plan. What’s the Green position on it?

Andrew: It’s not devolution as most Greens would see it defined. It is more a transfer of powers from a remote Westminster Government to a single individual who somehow is supposed to represent 2.3 million people. There is no elected Assembly like the London Mayor has to keep them in check. If London can have the GLA, why can’t Yorkshire have an elected assembly? The Mayor can also appoint a Deputy. In other places, these deputy roles have usually been party appointees on a whacking salary announced after the election. We asked Hawarun as the second placed candidate in our internal selection ballot to be our nominated Deputy Mayor and I’m really glad she has agreed. Greens do things differently and so much better!

Hawarun: Here I feel is the opportunity for individual Greens like myself and Andrew to showcase how things can be done, both differently and better. I feel we make a great team and jointly bring a complementary set of skills and knowledge that would be a fantastic assert to the role of West Yorkshire Mayor. Furthermore, together we can connect to and identify with the population at the very basic human level.

Andrew, you recently wrote a piece called ‘the housing and planning bill we should have had’ – what’s wrong with the one we got? What should it look like?

Andrew: The Government’s Planning White Paper is just awful. No zero carbon homes until 2050, the green belt under threat, social housing even harder to achieve and a much easier ride for developers. It is almost like developers were being rewarded by the Conservative Party. We need to revise the National Planning Policy Framework with which our local plans have to comply, in order to take account of the climate emergency. That would mean no building on flood plains, setting higher standards for energy efficiency and a better policy environment for renewables – particularly onshore wind. I’m also keen to see better levers to promote social housing for rent and an end to the right to buy council houses. Social renting has to become a positive choice for people rather than simply poverty housing.

Hawarun, you recently wrote a piece called 'Doing things differently to make the Green Party thrive'. Tell us more about how Greens should do things differently and break through to more people?

Hawarun: In my time as a councillor, I have delivered real change for my community, together with the other Green ward councillors. But even more than that, I feel we need to understand the local population better – people are not going to vote Green just because it is the right thing to do. There are numerous other factors impacting on an individual's life at any given time… and when it comes to voting, that decision is often made based on habit, on what’s happening locally, and what they understand of national issues. Ultimately, climate change is seen as too big an issue to be dealt by local politicians. Key questions to ask are: How does national media portray the Green Party? What images do people see? What time do local meetings take place? What are the discussion topics? What is resilience?  

Translate the ‘climate emergency’ for somebody in Bradford, Liverpool or Newcastle – and I am not referring to a different language.

Do people care what’s happening on the other side of the world if they have just lost their job?

As a party, we need to face facts. We are seen as a white, middle-class party obsessed with niche environmental issues. I passionately believe that if we want to succeed as a party, we need to reach out past our comfort zone to communities that don’t typically vote Green.

What do you think are the major challenges for West Yorkshire today? How would you tackle them as Mayor and Deputy Mayor?

Andrew: The major challenge is delivering a zero-carbon economy. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has said it wants to do this by 2038, but does not have a fully formed plan on how to do this. We need to build the policy tools and programmes to make this a reality. That means establishing a skills and education base to support a mass market of activity delivering zero carbon homes, a mass retrofit programme, active travel networks, tree planting and biodiversity projects to enhance our environment. As well as mitigation, we also need to have a strong focus on adaptation, with flood prevention measures and sustainable urban drainage as the norm and working with nature. All of this has to be done in a way that delivers social justice at the same time, by helping those on the lowest incomes benefit from the programmes we champion, by eliminating fuel poverty and providing the building blocks for a more equal society. It’s a huge challenge. Greens have shown for years we have known the problems facing us as a civilisation – now is the time to let us deliver the solutions.