Councillor Julien Pritchard and Birmingham’s Climate Emergency

Green World talks to Green councillor Julien Pritchard about his experience of being the only Green on Birmingham City Council, and how he managed to get the council to declare a Climate Emergency.

Birmingham City Council House
Birmingham City Council House

Birmingham City Council House

Imogen Benson

Julien Pritchard is the only Green councillor on Birmingham City Council, representing the Druids Heath and Monyhull ward. We spoke to him about his steps to becoming a councillor and his experience of working cross-party to declare a Climate Emergency. 

Julien Pritchard, Green councillor for Druids Heath and Monyhull

How long have you been a member of the Green Party and why did you join?

I’ve been a member for over 10 years, and I joined after doing some campaigning at university, as I found that the Green Party resonated the most with my values. I was one of the armchair members for a while, before I got more active in 2016 and started working for the party.

What made you stand to be a Green councillor?

I had seen the inspirational stuff that other Green councillors had done, particularly in neighbouring Solihull, where we have quite a big group of Green councillors. 

I was also motivated to get elected in an area that’s not traditionally Green and to make a difference to people’s lives where there’s a real need for it. For me, there were both social justice and environmental motivations.

What have you been able to achieve while on the council?

Firstly, there’s a big regeneration project planned for the council estates in Druids Heath, which will involve knocking down tower blocks to replace them with houses. Working with some of the residents, we’ve been able to make quite a few changes to the plans, including increasing the amount of council housing which will be built. Also, the initial regeneration plan had failed to give people living in the tower blocks the right to come back after the new houses are built, so we fought to give people the option to come back if they want to. 

There was also a library in my ward that had been temporarily closed and we were all a bit worried that it was never going to open again. After doing some campaigning, we managed to put pressure on the council to get it reopened.

I’ve also been working cross-party to get the Climate Emergency declaration in Birmingham, which was declared in June with the aim of net-zero by 2030.

What is it like being the only Green councillor and how have you been able to get your ideas across?

Because the elections are every four years, it will be a while until I can get any more people on the council to join me. But the upshot of four-year elections means that there’s less of a nastiness compared to if there were elections every year and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how I’ve been treated. 

In terms of making change happen, it’s all about looking for those opportunities. If you get in there first and throw yourself into the challenge, you can make real change. You might not have a lot of hard power, but there’s definitely lots of soft power, which can really make a difference.

Climate change was not one of the council’s priorities when I was first elected. A year after I first made that point in one of my first meetings, we’ve now declared a Climate Emergency.

What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?

I’m not able to put my own motions to the council as there’s only one of me, so I have to find allies in other parties and work with the Lib Dems to put motions forward. There’s also an element of not having the time for everything, so you really have to pick your battles.

How difficult was it to get Birmingham City Council to declare a Climate Emergency? What was the process?

I made an agreement with the Lib Dems that we were going to put the motion in and we had support from the Labour councillors with this as well. Doing this as a cross-party endeavour meant that we had to form a motion that we’d all be broadly happy with and it was ultimately voted through unanimously in June. 

The process was all about building allies and using this as an opportunity to move forward.

What support is there for the Climate Emergency declaration from local figures, residents and other councillors?

It was passed unanimously and what really gave the declaration assurance was the Climate Strike. This was fantastic, and a lot of what we’ve been able to do has been down to the pressure from the strikers. 

Certain councillors from certain parties are behind it, but that’s not universal so there’s still a strong need for a Green councillor. 

It’s easy to declare a Climate Emergency, but it’s much harder to actually implement the necessary policies. What are your next steps in turning the Climate Emergency declaration into real action? 

The motion put in play setting up a Climate Emergency task force for Birmingham. I was a bit frustrated that this took three or four months to set up and we still haven’t met yet. The task force is also quite a big group, so we’ll wait to see how effective it will actually be.

The task force is aiming to report back by January on what the plan will be and what it will look like, and it will really focus on what we need to do to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Julien Pritchard is Green Party councillor for Druids Heath and Monyhull.