Last Thursday saw the latest merry-go-round in party politics as Labour became the largest party on Brighton & Hove City Council, 8 years, or two administrations, after they last were ‘in control’. However, to get things passed, they are going to have to rely on the support of either the Conservatives or the Greens. In essence, some things haven’t changed and the parties are still going to have to collaborate for the good of the city.
However, some things will be different. The cuts experienced to date are going to seem like a walk in the park, compared to what are coming. How parties react to these cutbacks could impact heavily on their electoral success next time round.
It’s also worth looking at what Labour said in its manifesto about the environment and the big challenges that we think it will face over the next four years. Some if its ideas are good, such as looking to clean up the city and instill a sense of pride. Many are recycled and are being done already, such as managing our green spaces in an environmentally sound way, and one or two are rather vague or smack of tokenism, such as the school tree-planting programme. However, to be fair that is probably true of all parties.
The big environmental challenges we think they will face are:
- Recycling and rubbish – Labour made great play about the poor recycling record of the Greens who were naive to promise a 75% recycling rate when they came into power. The Greens also had to deal with equal pay issues which previous administrations had avoided, which led to industrial action and a drop in recycling. Now that’s all over, will Labour fair better? We’re not so sure. Historically our recycling rate has always been low, somewhere between 25-30% and with the incinerator, and a secretive private finance deal attached to that, there is little incentive or ability to significantly up the recycling rate. Without investment we don’t see how they can achieve this and money is going to be in short supply. Unless Labour can reach a recycling rate of around 40%, this could come back to haunt them.
- Air pollution – during the election campaign the Supreme Court ruled that Government must draw up an action plan by the end of the year to bring air pollution down to legal levels in “as short as time as possible”. This could work in the Council’s favour, if the Government is forced to provide funding for local authorities to improve things, or not if Government try to pass the cost onto local authorities causing them even greater problems. It could rile the motoring lobby who don’t seem to care that at least 115 people a year are dying prematurely in the city from air pollution and believe that you can somehow magic away congestion by widening roads. It could also make developers show that their plans are not making the current situation worse (which could be problematic) but it could ultimately lead to a cleaner and more integrated transport network to the benefit of the city.
- The urban fringe – with the Government likely to go down the road of less planning control, and pressure for more housing in the city, the urban fringe could come under even greater attack. Already, the Council has had to concede to building over 1,000 homes in the urban fringe to try and get the City Plan approved and that is still not a done deal. Were that figure to be forced upwards then many green spaces could be under threat, more than they are already. Labour has pledged to “uphold strong environmental planning policies” but does that include restricting car parking and will it be able to stand up for the local environment in the face of a Conservative Government likely to further dismantle the planning system?
These are not the only challenges. The elephant in the room of course is climate change, but without a strong national lead and a willingness to embed climate friendly policies across all Government departments, particularly in transport, planning and business, it is difficult to see how the Council can have any significant impact. That is not to let it off the hook, as there will undoubtedly be things it can and should do and we will certainly be scrutinising its actions to see if Labour lives up to its promise to consider the environment in all decision making across the council. This is something that is supposedly done already, but all too often it is nothing more than tokenism.
Will they succeed in these challenges? Well we certainly hope so and that all parties can set aside their political differences to work for the good of the city. The next few years are not going to be easy.