Joan Grech: Protecting biodiversity in Storrington and Washington

The new councillor describes her campaign experience, and considers how residents’ awareness of green issues is growing in an area partially within the South Downs National Park.

Cllr Joan Grech
Cllr Joan Grech
Describe the current political structure of your council.

Horsham District Council is made up of 30 Conservative councillors, 14 Liberal Democrats, 3 Greens and 1 Independent. It’s a three-member ward and all three members had been Conservative since the ward was created in 2019, as were the members of the ward that predated the current one, going all the way back to 2003. The seat I contested became vacant because one of the members resigned after he was de-selected.

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

Although I had previously been involved in a campaign for a candidate in another area, seeing an entire campaign from start to finish was an education.  

The thought of knocking on the doors of strangers was initially daunting, but the vast majority of people were friendly, even if they were not supporters. Many people appreciated that someone had taken the trouble to speak to them – sometimes it was difficult to get away!  

I had a lot of help from volunteers – I enjoyed getting to know other like-minded people and teaming up with them to leaflet and canvass. Leafleting and canvassing are tiring but there is a lot of value in being seen doing it. Several people remarked to me that they had seen me campaigning day after day and that, unlike candidates from the other parties, I had clearly put the work in.

Inevitably, problems arose but the experience of my field organiser, Claudia, and election agent, Jon, proved invaluable to overcoming these.

Although the indications were that I was likely to get a good result, I thought that a good second place was the most likely outcome. At the count, it became increasingly obvious that something unexpected might be happening. I was surprised to win but also delighted that all of the support many people had given to my campaign had paid off. It was also wonderful receiving messages of congratulations and having people stopping in the street to tell me how pleased they were with the result.

What are the green issues affecting your local area?

The main issues in my area are traffic congestion and speeding, air pollution and over-development. Many people also feel that although the local population is increasing the provision of services is not keeping pace, and in some instances, actually reducing. The proportion of people in the older age groups is quite high in the area and those people are particularly impacted by these issues, as well as by the lack of a good, integrated transport system.  

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

A big improvement would be to reduce the speed of traffic within the villages in the ward.  Many motorists fail to take account of the decrease in the speed limit on approach roads to the villages, and also increase their speed prematurely as they leave the villages. Measures can be taken, such as better signage and even physical features, to better delineate the village boundary and encourage drivers to slow down within the villages. With local community support and parish council backing, it should be possible to get the County Council to agree to some of these measures. 

Walking and cycling in the area can be difficult because of narrow, or lack of, pavements. Roads are also busy and often narrow, making it difficult to implement dedicated cycling and walking routes. However, some creative thinking could identify routes that use back roads to avoid busy streets, and suitable footpaths and bridleways so that safe walking and cycling routes can be created.  

I am also keen that the District Council, as a Planning Authority, should undertake to impose conditions on planning applications which have the maximum positive impact on such issues as tackling climate change, biodiversity gain, and the health and well-being of residents. It is within its powers to do so.

I intend to repay the trust that people showed towards me by voting for me as their councillor by working hard for the community and being responsive to their needs, in particular those that feel they have been neglected by their Conservative councillors.

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

There is a certain amount of disillusionment with other parties, especially the governing party – ‘they are all the same’. People are also increasingly aware of climate change and biodiversity loss and, with the ward being in a rural area and partially within the South Downs National Park, many people value having nature and green spaces around them. There also seems to be a greater understanding that the Green Party isn’t ‘just about the environment’, but that measures taken to tackle environmental issues can also help address other issues such as poverty and poor health.