Lesley Whyrbow is the leader of the six-strong Green group on Folkestone and Hythe District Council. Where she represents the Hythe ward. Whybrow has recently been given the Environment portfolio on the council cabinet as part of a new council power-sharing agreement. We spoke to Whybrow about the agreement, as well as her achievements and background on the council.
How long have you been a member of the Green Party and why did you join?
I have been a member since 2013. I was pretty ‘green’ for quite a while before that but was finally prompted to join when Labour supported welfare cuts.
Who is your Green hero?
Caroline Lucas, of course!
What was the first campaign you were part of?
I was one of the founder members of the Save Princes Parade campaign. Princes Parade is a large piece of green open space near where I live. The council, of which I am now a member, owns the site and wants to use if for a leisure centre and 150 new homes.
What did you do before becoming a councillor?
I am a chartered accountant. My husband and I used to own a small publishing company which we sold a few years ago. I now volunteer as an adviser at Citizens Advice.
What made you stand to be a Green councillor?
Partly because of the Save Princes Parade campaign. I didn’t like what I found out about how the council operated and I thought it was time I stood up for what I believe in. The deciding factor was wanting to speak up for the people I see as clients at Citizens Advice who just didn’t have a voice at the council at all.
Why do you think Green policies resonate in your ward?
Living by the sea does focus your mind on the risks of climate change – much of Hythe is in a flood risk area. Also we are seeing a lot of new development and local people are very concerned about the loss of green open space.
What is a typical day in the life of a Green councillor?
I don’t think there is a typical day. As the Green group leader the bulk of my council work is attending meetings with officers and working group meetings, which inevitably means reading a lot of reports. My fellow Green councillors probably do a lot more community and case work than I do. The formal public meetings are just the tip of the iceberg.
What have been your biggest successes as councillor?
I think I am most proud of the way we have been able to put politics aside and work with the Lib Dem and Labour councillors to form a very effective opposition. By doing that we managed to declare a climate and ecological emergency and push the council into considering a move away from the cabinet system to a committee system. As a joint opposition we have been able to change the council’s priorities so tackling climate change and building more council homes are now top of the agenda. We did win a motion to withdraw the planning application for Princes Parade although unfortunately that decision is not binding on cabinet.
How will the new power-sharing agreement on Folkestone and Hythe District Council work?
It’s very early days but it is most definitely not a coalition so I will be able to speak and vote against anything I disagree with. The reality is, of course, I will almost certainly be outvoted but at least I will have the chance to say what I think at the highest level meetings. The important thing is that I have the Environment portfolio so I will be able to push forward our work to produce a carbon action plan.
What will you oversee as cabinet member with an environment portfolio?
I will chair the Climate & Ecological Emergency Working Group and be responsible for air quality.
What support do you receive from the Association of Green Councillors and how useful has it been?
The appointment of Julian Dean as Climate Action officer couldn’t have been better timed for my new role.
What are the aims of the Folkestone and Hythe Green Party over the next few years?
We already have one councillor on the County Council (my husband) so we are hoping to win at least one more seat in 2021. And then to increase the number of seats on the District Council in 2023 – we already have six.