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Your Interview: Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas
11:30am Saturday 22nd September 2012 in News
In our new weekly feature your Interview, we give you, our readers, the chance to ask key figures across Sussex the questions you want answered. This week Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas answers your questions.
Paul Zara: What would you say was your biggest achievement for the city since becoming an MP?
Caroline Lucas: There are many aspects of my work as MP which are rewarding, but three achievements really stand out in my mind.
Working with those tackling drug misuse locally to help change the way we approach addiction and to reduce drug-related harms in the city; ensuring that my constituents’ opposition to the government’s hugely damaging cuts is heard loud and clear in Parliament – including exposing the huge number of mistakes made by ATOS when they assess eligibility for employment support allowance; and securing the opportunity for Brighton and Hove to bid for government funding for ultra-fast broadband to boost our digital and creative sectors.
Mike Fortin: Over the passage of time I have noticed that all the major supermarkets and their local subsidiaries have become extremely cold places with staff having to work wearing fleeces and gloves, even in summer.
I can understand that some foods require to be housed in chiller cabinets but I do not believe that the ambient temperature across the whole of these supermarkets needs to be so low.
The amount of wasted energy required to maintain these low temperatures must be considerable, especially when multiplied by all the supermarkets in the UK.
I am sure that the saving of energy must be high on the Green Party agenda and as a Green MP can we look forward to you actively lobbying the owners of the major supermarkets to raise their ambient temperature to a more acceptable level?
To do nothing would acknowledge that profits count more than global warming, as a colder supermarket environment allows goods to remain fresher for longer and so increase their shelf life.
CL: You’re right that energy saving is high on the Green agenda and I’ve been lobbying government to put far greater emphasis on energy efficiency in its new energy laws so that it will be easier for all companies to meet higher standards.
Compulsory carbon reporting for larger companies will be important so that facts and figures on environmental performance will be published for everyone to see.
More generally the Greens have long opposed aggressive supermarket expansion, and recognise the damaging effect that big supermarket developments can have on surrounding local businesses.
I was really pleased to play a lead role in the campaign to stop Tesco from building on the community garden site in the Lewes Road – but we need the government to give far more power to local communities, under the Localism Bill for example, to promote independent and locally owned shops and protect the diversity of their high streets.
Phillipa Shaw, co-ordinator of the Friends of Withdean Park: I understand you believe that all Brighton and Hove City Parks are well cared for. Can I ask you to find out why Withdean Park (in Patcham ward) has not had a gardener for years, not even a share of one, despite The Friends of Withdean Park having petitioned for a share of one last year, and being turned down.
The gardeners mow the grass and empty bins and that is all. The rest is down to a handful of FOWP.
Please, we cannot do it all on our own. Our once famous National Lilac Collection (of world renown) has been neglected since I first became a volunteer in 1996 and lost its status in 2009.
CL: Our city’s parks are beautiful and well-used, but they need a lot of ongoing upkeep. I’ve noticed this when I walk my dog in Withdean Park and have raised it with the council.
Unfortunately, like every other local council in the country, Brighton and Hove is being hit with massive government cut backs and is therefore forced to prioritise spending to protect vital services like healthcare and education.
Those cuts are causing real damage to our urban parks and green spaces, as is the loss of skills in professional horticulture in the public sector through staff redundancies.
I’m backing a campaign in Parliament to challenge the government on this and calling for a national level agency with a watching brief to protect urban parks.
Our natural heritage is too important to be left to look after itself – and I’d like to see the lilacs in Withdean Park returned to their former glory.
Peter: As a cyclist what can you do to make more workplaces in Brighton accommodate those who choose to cycle to work, such as installing showers, changing rooms, bike racks or adopting the cycle to work scheme?
CL: I agree that more needs to be done to improve facilities for people who cycle to work, and to encourage more people to choose this option.
Transport and planning policies are one way the city is already promoting cycling.
I also think a green travel plan for the city would be a great way of improving conditions for cyclists on the roads and encouraging workplaces to do their bit.
Unfortunately, the Coalition scrapped Cycling England and wiped out numerous successful schemes to channel money into workplace projects.
I do think there is potential for the city to make good use of those that remain, though, and am happy to help.
Rosie: The Greens who are running the council have been dubbed some of the most unpopular councillors in recent memory.
Parking price hikes, losing directors and cuts to libraries and public toilets – all have proved pretty unpopular. On a scale of one to ten what mark do you give the Greens running the city council?
CL: As the current council administration is still only partway through its term it would be pretty unfair to try to give a score – I’ll only do that once the term has finished in 2015.
But let’s not forget the incredibly tough decisions facing councillors about how best to protect local services in the face of unprecedented spending cuts handed down by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government.
That’s why a key part of my work as a Member of Parliament is to continue challenging Ministers on their chronic mishandling of the economy and the failure to invest in our young people’s futures and in jobs.
Valerie Paynter: Do you think the way the Greens are handling the administration of the council will help or hinder your chances of re-election in 2015?
CL: I’d hope to be judged on my own record as an MP and I’m confident the people of Brighton Pavilion will do that.
The work I’m doing, whether it’s tabling legislation in Parliament to make it easier for local businesses to benefit from cheaper energy deals or accrediting local landlords to improve housing standards, is driven by the concerns of constituents and the feedback I get is very positive.
There is huge anger out there about what the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are doing to the economy and our public services and a feeling that none of these parties offer a strong voice.
So I think people appreciate the fact that, in this city, there is a strong political voice from outside the three main Westminster parties, one that speaks out passionately for social and environmental justice.
Elizabeth Dwiar: Can you help us obtain a grant, such as the government’s Social Action Fund, to help make Patcham Peace Gardens safe for the young, elderly and disabled?
CL: The Peace Gardens are a lovely natural resource for the community and if local people were to come together to develop a strong bid for government funding to pay for improvements, I would certainly support it – and I imagine the council would too.
Part of my work as an MP and community advocate is to help match up groups and projects in the constituency with funders, since it’s not always easy to navigate through the different funding streams.
If you’d like to discuss this in more detail please do get in touch with my office.
Bob Barrett: To what extent do you think your success is down to the student vote?
CL: Students have been hit severely by this government’s misguided policies – the disastrous decision to allow tuition fees to go up to £9,000 a year and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, to name but a few.
The student population here in Brighton and Hove is a vital part of the local community and I know that many students feel increasingly drawn to Green policies – our staunch opposition to tuition fee rises and support for the EMA to be reinstated, as well as our progressive policies on civil liberties and human rights.
That said, the scale of the party’s success in recent elections has shown clearly that people across the city, from many different backgrounds and political persuasions, are now choosing to go Green and this is why Brighton and Hove is leading the way for a new type of politics.
Valerie: What is the best and worst part about being an MP?
CL: Seeing the positive responses from constituents arrive in my mailbag gives me a real buzz.
Many of them end up on the corkboard in our office! I also feel honoured to have such amazing opportunities to meet people across the constituency, be able to support local campaigns and to play a part in putting this wonderful city even more firmly on the map.
The worst aspect has been the incredibly late nights because of the completely inefficient way Parliament does business!
Many MPs have been there for years and are wedded to old fashioned ways of doing things – which means the pace of change can be glacial.
I’ve been trying to reform some of the most archaic practices, for example, by publishing a report calling for electronic voting to save time and money and also for explanatory information to be made available to MPs when they vote on bits of legislation.
Sometimes MPs don’t even know what they’re voting on – it’s madness.
Smithy: One Planet Living is a noble aim – but how can it be achieved in one city? Especially as you are the only Green MP.
CL: One Planet Living is one of the council’s projects aimed at using fewer natural resources and making Brighton and Hove a greener, cleaner and healthier place for everyone. Anything which can help us make progress towards those aims is to be welcomed.
I understand that new energy saving lighting at the Brighton Centre , for example, is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 23.5 tonnes a year and save at least £41,000 a year on electricity bills.
Meanwhile a project to reduce the amount of water being used in the centre’s urinals could save 13,000 litres a day, reducing water use by 96 per cent and cutting water bills by an estimated £9,200 a year, so saving council tax payers money in the long term.
Granny Weatherwax: Are you in favour of banning all cars from Brighton city centre, including taxis, only allowing delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles and buses?
CL: No I’m not, though I do want it to be easier for people to choose to leave their cars at home, which includes pressuring the government to bring down the cost of train travel – I’m campaigning on this in Parliament, as well as calling for the railways to be brought back into public ownership – and ensure bus services effectively meet people’s needs.
Reducing traffic will lower our climate emissions and also help tackle local air pollution.
Owing to years of inaction Brighton and Hove is one of 12 UK cities that have breached EU laws on air quality – with major implications for public health.
I’m also in favour of 20mph speed limits in residential areas to help reduce the tragically high number of deaths and injuries on our roads.
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