Q&A: Councillor Dave Wells

Green World talks with Amber Valley borough councillor Dave Wells.

Green World

Dave Wells is the sole Green councillor on Amber Valley Borough Council in Derbyshire, where he represents the Duffield ward. He was elected in May 2019, and is a member of the Planning Board and the Climate Change Working Group. We spoke to Dave about his experiences as the only Green councillor on the council and his goals for the future.

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

Councillor Dave Wells
Councillor Dave Wells

I joined the Green Party in 1990. I had been a member of the Labour Party for some years, but I didn’t support its abandoning of its policy on unilateral nuclear disarmament, and I came to realise that he Green Party was the only one that told the truth about the connection between the economy, the environment and social justice; they are interdependent, but the other parties treat the environment simply as an “add-on”.

Who is your Green hero?

That’s a difficult one. I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a teenager, and sang Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi with the hippies in the 1970s! Chico Mendes and Ken Saro-Wiwa both lost their lives defending the environment, but I think my ultimate Green hero has to be Caroline Lucas. Her honesty is a shining light in today’s political environment, and her role as the conscience of Parliament is an absolute inspiration.

What was the first campaign you were part of?

I used to go on CND and anti-apartheid marches in the 1980s, but the first local campaign was when I was the founder member of Belper Against Tesco Superstore (BATS) in 2007. I stood as Green Party candidate in the local election to “test the water” of feeling in the town about Tesco’s planning application to build a superstore in the town. We held them off for years; I think they finally withdrew in 2012.

What did you do before becoming a councillor?

A couple of years each as an accountant and nursing assistant (in a psychiatric hospital), before 36 years as a teacher, mainly of children with Special Educational Needs; sixteen of these were part-time, as I shared the upbringing of our two children.

What made you stand to be a Green councillor?

I first stood in 1991, simply to offer that choice to the electorate. I received 2.1 per cent of the vote! When I next stood, in 2007 (see above), I received 22 per cent! And after I retired (in 2017), I had no excuse not to stand in our target ward, because I would have the time to campaign and to serve, if elected, and no one else in the local party had that time. And of course, the ultimate aim is to make it so “normal” to vote Green that we eventually elect another MP (and some more). (Last year, I received 63 per cent). 

What is a typical day in the life of a Green councillor?

There isn’t really a typical day, but a typical week is a mixture of dealing with casework (mainly reading and sending emails), reading papers and other information in preparation for Council Meetings (I am a member of the Planning Board and the Climate Change Working Group), attending those meetings, and work as Community Leader for the local Plastic Free Campaign. I also attend occasional training courses and hold a monthly councillor surgery. I reckon it takes 10-15 hours a week, which, of course, leaves time for shopping, housework, the gym, the allotment, watching football and going to the pub (pre Covid-19)

What have been your biggest successes as councillor?

I have only been a councillor since last May, and I am the only Green Party councillor on a 45-member council, so I can’t claim any huge successes, other than constantly referring to the climate crisis in any meeting I attend! And people are listening!

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

Quite lonely, although most of the Labour members have been friendly and welcoming, the Conservatives have been less so. The main problem is not knowing what is expected; as a member of a group, you have guidance. Also, as a member of a group, you can share the workload and, I guess, even “hide”. As a lone Green councillor, I feel I have to do an especially good job, and be seen to be doing so. However, the upside is that I don’t have to vote with a group: I’m independent, and can vote according to residents’ needs and Green Party principles. I bring up the climate crisis at pretty much every council meeting, especially at Planning Board meetings when we are asked to give permission to housing developments which are not designed for the climate emergency.

Have you been able to collaborate with other parties/councillors?

Yes. I’m a member of the cross-party Climate Change Working Group, and a couple of the Labour councillors are extremely co-operative and welcoming.

What support do you receive from the Association of Green Councillors and how useful has it been?

The AGC email group was especially useful in my early days as a councillor, and the Conference last year in Stroud was great. I have to confess that I have found Slack more difficult to access, but I do use it to ask questions, and someone always answers.

What are the aims of the Amber Valley Green Party over the next few years?

Initially to get elected a second Green member in my ward, and possibly even a County Councillor in the division where my ward is located. Beyond that, it is very difficult. Amber Valley is an area where residents have voted Labour or Tory for generations, and it has been hard work to get them to change old allegiances. But “Target to Win” was the “bible” that helped me to win, and we hope that voters have seen that they can make a difference, and the Green Party can win. To this end, we will continue to stand candidates in as many wards as possible, if only to give people the opportunity to vote Green.