FROM coronavirus to car bans and cycle lanes, we asked Brighton’s new Green leaders about their vision for the city.

Argus reporter Sam Brooke questioned new Brighton and Hove City Council leader Councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty and co-deputy leader Councillor Hannah Clare.

What are the most pressing issues facing the city?

Councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty: The Greens have made it very clear we are prepared to serve the city and we’re prepared to get to grips with the Covid crisis, never mind keeping the rates of infection down and supporting the most vulnerable.

As we’ve already said, both the council and many businesses are facing challenges. This is really significant and we will push for government support if necessary. We have to be mindful that people have lost whole chunks of their income in the pandemic.

Of course Covid is a disease affecting the lungs, and parts of the city have historically had poor air quality. If we’re serious about tackling Covid we need to start tackling the climate crisis too. We don’t want the Covid crisis to be followed by a climate crisis.

>>READ MORE: New Green council to lobby for more powers to raise funds

The Argus: Cllr Mac Cafferty said the Green council aims to tackle the climate crisisCllr Mac Cafferty said the Green council aims to tackle the climate crisis

On the jobs front, we have seen a rise in unemployment related to the pandemic, especially in the hospitality, retail, and culture sectors. We have fantastic sectors in the city but they need support to help them get back on their feet. We want to start a live music round table.

Councillor Hannah Clare: It’s a tough time financially for the council, we have a growing budget gap ranging from £17 to £39 million. We’re going to have to think creatively about tackling these challenges.

We’ve had a constructive relationship with the Labour administration and we hope to continue working with them. We had a lot of agreement in our manifestos. Perhaps the difference between us is we want to keep pushing for a green recovery in the city - for example by starting an insulation programme for warmer homes and creating the jobs we need to get out of this crisis and creating lower fuel bills for residents.

The Labour administration has introduced car bans and temporary cycle lanes in the city. Will this continue under the Greens?

Cllr Clare: We prefer to think of it as opening roads up and creating space so people can travel in an active way. A second tranche of government funding will be made available in the coming weeks so we will look at that.

The Argus: Cllr Clare said car bans 'free up' roads for pedestrians and cyclistsCllr Clare said car bans 'free up' roads for pedestrians and cyclists

That’s how we plan to go forward - how can we rethink these spaces? How can we alter Madeira Drive so it’s available for active travel and business? How can we build back in a better way?

What concrete policies does a ‘green recovery’ entail for the city?

Cllr Mac Cafferty: The Local Government Association recently wrote a report on how councils can create green jobs. We hope to create these jobs, skilled jobs which will be welcome in our city.

With programmes like insulating homes, we’re creating jobs, stopping our homes from being draughty and damp, reducing toxic emissions, and helping the city get to its carbon-neutral target by 2030. We hope to provide local stimulus for green jobs, get things moving again, and take steps to reduce our carbon footprint.

Cllr Clare: We will also hold a climate assembly to bring people together on how to tackle these issues.

Cllr Mac Cafferty: We’re hoping to work with education providers in the city to provide apprenticeships for young people so they can learn the skills to do what needs to be done in this city.

The Argus: The city council will soon convene a climate assemblyThe city council will soon convene a climate assembly

How do you plan to plug the council’s the budget gap?

Cllr Mac Cafferty: We’re taking a good look under the bonnet at the moment. We’re trying to understand what the problem actually is. We want to challenge council officials to think creatively about the way forward.

It’s a challenging period and we have to be honest about that. The budget gap is big and it’s growing.

We’d like more freedom for our council to raise funds, perhaps to raise council tax above the current limit or introduce red routes into the city like in London, introducing fines for causing congestion.

But it’s not just about raising money, it’s about the amount of power the council has. We live in a country where central government holds an awful lot of power and is quite distrusting of councils. We have the expertise locally, as our health teams show. We really need to have the money and powers to be able to tackle the crisis creatively.

The Argus: Cllr Mac Cafferty suggested the city council could introduce 'red routes' in Brighton if given the powers to do so. Photo: Nigel CoxCllr Mac Cafferty suggested the city council could introduce 'red routes' in Brighton if given the powers to do so. Photo: Nigel Cox

What did the Labour administration do well and what would you like to improve?

Cllr Mac Cafferty: We’ve collaborated with the Labour administration on two important pieces of work on the future of the city. The first is the city plan deciding where homes will go and how we will protect our environment. We worked closely with Labour on that. We also worked with them on the budget.

Cllr Clare: Our manifestos were very similar, including the 2030 carbon neutrality target and the target to build more council homes. We hope to continue working towards those targets.

How will the city council tackle homelessness?

Cllr Clare: With the council housing the homeless during the peak of Covid-19 we have been pushing to ensure we don’t waste this opportunity to keep people off the streets. Phelim and [former council leader] Nancy [Platts] have written to the Government to continue to push for more support to keep people in accommodation.

How do the Greens plan to tackle litter and graffiti in the city?

Cllr Mac Cafferty: I think it’s safe to say these are thorny issues that have grown over the last two administrations. We’ve been trying to do our part. We have set up a community tidy-up team in Brunswick and Adelaide. We were out picking litter about 20 times during lockdown.

The Argus: Cllr Mac Cafferty said the council would look to 'community action' for solutions to litter problems in BrightonCllr Mac Cafferty said the council would look to 'community action' for solutions to litter problems in Brighton

We’re looking at how communities have tackled the situation. We have plans on the issue we will reveal in the coming weeks and months. We will be looking to the positive actions of communities.

Obviously Cityclean has had increasing missed collections and quantities of missed collections have continued to grow. We will do our best to understand the issue. We did only take power two days ago but we will try to focus on what ways the city can improve.

With a strong Black Lives Matter movement in the city, what will the Greens do to tackle racism?

Cllr Mac Cafferty: On Thursday we’ll be adopting an anti-racism strategy. This includes our Green manifesto pledge of ensuring a BAME representative sits on the council’s most powerful committee, the Policy and Resources Committee. As we speak the process for that is under way. We’ll also look at how to tackle institutional and unconscious racism in the city.

Cllr Clare: It’s not going to be just one strategy that does it. In September we’re hoping to create a strategy for education in the city, including looking at the curriculum and how BME staff and students are supported.

What do you want to have achieved by the 2023 council election?

Cllr Clare: We need to have made strong steps towards carbon neutrality in whatever form that comes.

We want to have made more work towards active travel and ensuring we have warmer homes. We also want to create affordable homes and build towards our target of 800 new council homes. And we want to create a better future for young people, creating more jobs that work for everyone.

Cllr Mac Cafferty: The Covid-19 crisis is far from over. We still have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our city. We’d hope to have increased powers to prevent local outbreaks.

The council needs to step up with its partners to attract investment into the city, creating jobs.

No one party is in control of the council, so we need to work cross-party for the benefit of the city on how we’re going to respond to the crisis. Politicians aren’t the only people with ideas, so we want to involve everyone, including our amazing community groups, for the benefit of the city.