'Westminster has failed local communities'

“The Green Party believes local communities know best, and that local decisions should always be made by local people.” As the Green Party launches its local elections campaign, Co-leader Jonathan Bartley lays out the party’s plans to bring decisions over land use back into the hands of local communities and away from an out-of-touch Westminster.

Derelict building
Derelict building

Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan Bartley

There can be fewer more fitting metaphors for British politics this week than the suspension of the House of Commons as water cascaded through the roof and into the building. Parliament is quite literally crumbling as the political establishment tears itself apart over Brexit – and the public watches on in despair.

One of the (many) great tragedies of recent years is the devastating extent to which Westminster has failed local communities, with ordinary people paying the price. Consecutive  Conservative governments have slashed council budgets in half, leaving local services decimated and the most vulnerable worst affected. The government has depleted the NHS so deeply that treating patients in corridors has become commonplace, and it has cut school funding to the extent teachers have been forced to beg parents to pay for essentials like books and pens.

Yet up and down England local communities are stepping in to fill the gap. From the neighbourhoods taking over pubs as community assets, to the residents running Christmas bus services to make sure elderly neighbours aren't isolated or alone over the festive period, communities are a source of hope and strength – and are demonstrating why power shouldn’t only reside with the state.

The Green Party believes local communities know best, and that local decisions should always be made by local people. That’s why our councillors are local. While Conservative and Labour candidates are getting doors slammed on them, more and more people are seeing that Greens work in and with their communities to win the change they need.

Take Altrincham, where Greens and the community are working to save children’s playing fields from being turned into unaffordable housing. We know green space is worth defending as somewhere to be with your family, for children to join the local football club, or to just relax or walk the dog. Everywhere community centres, swimming pools and libraries are the lungs and the heart of local communities, but councils are flogging off these vital organs to big developers. It has never been more important to empower local people to protect and enrich the things which matter most to them – like land.

We think it’s common sense that communities should always get the first say on how local land is used. That’s why the Green Party would introduce community Right to Buy in England and Wales, so that when a piece of land goes up for sale the local community would have the right to buy it. This would keep land like this out of the hands of people hungry for profit, making sure it’s used in a way in which everyone can benefit.

And we wouldn’t stop there. We’d give local people the powers to seize brownfield land which isn’t being used – no matter who owns it. We would introduce Compulsory Sale Orders so anything from boarded up buildings to abandoned scraps of space can be taken into community ownership and be turned into something which enriches the space for everyone.

In Scotland, where this is already law, the island of Eigg has been completely rejuvenated by being put back in the hands of local people – hundreds of jobs in tourism, its own brewery and 100 per cent renewable energy. It’s time communities across England and Wales were given the mechanisms they need to do this too, because when it comes to transforming communities, we know this works. In Ashburton, the local community bought out an old Methodist Church and has used it for local people to come together for events from small-scale community events to full on jazz festivals.

This May, Greens across the country will stand for council election to empower communities win the change they need – whether that’s fighting the development of unaffordable housing that doesn’t benefit local residents, resisting the hollowing out of their communities or defending precious community space. Every single Green vote this May will be a vote for your local community, because we are local people. We listen to you, we trust you and will work with you to make change happen.