Describe the current political structure of your council.
For the first time we have Green councillors on East Sussex County Council (ESCC). There are four of us and we come from different parts of the county, so bring diverse experiences. The council is dominated by the 27 Conservative Councillors, with 11 Lib Dems and five Labour councillors. Also, there are three independents. The proportion of women councillors is still very low on ESCC (26 per cent), one of the lowest in the UK.
What was your experience of the election campaign?
I enjoyed the canvassing – we managed to talk to many people in the main villages in the division. So many people already supported the Green Party, but also, we spoke to quite a few Conservatives who wanted a good local Councillor and were impressed with our campaign. There was even a UKIP voter who declared he would vote for me. We managed to put out a lot more on social media this time, and the central Green Party material really helped with that. It was also amazing to see all of the Green Party poster boards in rows along some roads. We ran out as more and more people asked for them.
How did it feel to win?
It was fantastic to win, though I was not entirely surprised given the amount of support that we had experienced during the canvassing. While we were watching the count we estimated that around 80 per cent of Forest Row voters voted Green, while in Hartfield, a normally solid Conservative ward, we also won (by a smaller margin). In the count each time there was a declaration of a Conservative win there was quite a tired, and reserved clapping. But when my result was declared, there was an almighty cheer and loud applause. It was striking, and some of us were moved to tears. And the majority was good, though we were helped by having no Lib Dem or Labour competition. The Forest Row and Groombridge Division also had one of the highest turnouts at nearly 50 per cent. In all divisions that Greens were campaigning, the turnout was the highest, which shows that our messages are motivating people to vote.
What are the green issues affecting your local area?
Road safety, public transport and active travel has been a big issue and even more important since the start of the pandemic. Hardly any of the national funds for active travel that were given to ESCC reached Forest Row and Groombride, a very rural division. The wider area of Wealden has suffered from massive over development, which are mostly large and high price houses, rather than the low cost housing needed in the area. Wealden East, where my colleague Cornelie Usborne was standing for the Green Party, did very well as there were so many objections to development in her area, and she ran a fantastic campaign rooted in local activism.
A cut in funding for the Ashdown Forest is also a problem. ESCC has had to cut funding and an EU grant, which is now managed by Natural England, will run out next year. Other important local issues include very poor public transport, a growing need for good quality social care and an aging population, one of the lowest number of electric car charging points in the country, and, of course, a local economy that has been hit badly by lockdowns. Small businesses are struggling, and I expect there will be more challenges as the emergency loans need to be serviced.
What do you hope to achieve in the coming years as a Green councillor?
As we are a minority on the council our best hope for urgent climate and ecological action is to influence and hold the majority party to account. If we can make sure climate and ecological issues are integrated into all decision making, I will be very pleased.
I would like to make sure that I cover the requests coming from local residents as well as I possibly can, and I am already using a spreadsheet to track the multiple requests that I have received in the last two weeks!
Our Green group of four is meeting this Monday to agree what our top priorities are for the coming year, and beyond. I suspect they will include some of the following topics: pension fund fossil fuel divestment, public transport, banning herbicide use, green transition jobs, natural spaces and regenerative/sustainable farming, road safety and active travel, fishing and social care.
Personally, I am interested in looking carefully at the systems and structure available to ensure a sufficient transition for the council. For that reason, I have chosen to be on the audit committee. As I am also active in the Green Party Climate Emergency Policy working group and we have been looking at sustainable cost accounting, I may ask the council whether they are interested in exploring how this could be piloted by the council. Will the council be a going concern in 2030 given the regulations on carbon emissions coming around the corner?
To what do you attribute the growing interest in Greens in your area?
There is a high level of awareness of the climate and ecological emergency. The current Conservative government is thought to be dishonest, corrupt and incompetent. We have a big connection with nature in this area and it is being threatened by current government policies and people are aware that we are not even near to meeting our own climate targets as a country. They want action now.