The Greens now have a presence across Sevenoaks, which means we will be able to increase the effectiveness of our support for communities in tackling both local and national issues.
Greens believe that sustainable communities are active communities; that people are citizens, not just consumers or producers. We support community self-organisation and seek to encourage active, democratic participation in the delivery of local authority services. Therefore, we will encourage areas to set up residents' associations and other forms of community organisation and seek to integrate these into service delivery models to work alongside professional service providers.
Below are some of our policy priorities for Sevenoaks. We seek to implement and lobby for policies that will make the District economically sustainable for the long term and as self-reliant as possible while reducing our environmental impact. As a nation, we need three planets’ worth of natural resources to support our present lifestyles and, clearly, this is a situation that cannot continue. Therefore, if we are to leave anything of worth for future generations, each community has a role to play in remedying this situation.
We believe that this is a practical task that is not only achievable but will also enhance the quality of life for everyone.
We do not pretend to have solved every problem or to have anticipated every difficulty. Politics is always a work in progress but, if approached in good faith, we believe that a new social consensus for social and environmental justice can be built. You are invited to join us in this process. Greens are open and inclusive. You might even be a member of another political party, but whatever your starting point or tradition, if you are prepared to engage in honest and constructive debate, your contribution will be valued.
We believe that decisions should be made at the most local level possible. That politics is something people do rather than something they have done to them.
Therefore we will make council decision-making much more transparent and localised.
Using the powers councils already have under the Localism Act (2011) we will:
• scrap the cabinet system in favour of a committee system so that councillors can represent those who elect them more effectively
• devolve as much decision making to the town and parish council level as possible so that people have a greater say in local affairs such as planning.
• as funds allow, introduce webcasts of all council meetings (along similar lines to those used by KCC).
• explore participatory budgeting to involve the public in council budgeting decisions.
Sevenoaks suffers from congestion and air pollution and is far too car dependent. Public transport is poor in many areas and prohibitively expensive, which leaves people with little or no choice but to drive. Therefore, we will:
• take steps to combat air pollution and traffic congestion by promoting better cycling and walking and increasing public transport provision to make travel in the District much less car-dependent.
• press for improvements to public transport to make travel in the District much less car-dependent (20% of people in Kent don't have access to private cars) and explore ways to reduce fares.
• make minor rural roads safer by reducing speed limits and, in towns, introduce 20mph on all residential roads and near schools.
• work with other agencies (e.g. KCC, Kent Police) to review all speed limits in the District.
We will also investigate innovative public transport solutions such as Share Taxis and Car Clubs and encourage greater car sharing. We will work with parents and schools to cut the number of car journeys involved in taking children to and from school.
We all depend on a healthy environment for our wellbeing but too frequently our environment is coming under threat, especially from over-development.
Therefore, we will:
• protect the green belt and oppose inappropriate development. Instead, we advocate building within the footprint of existing communities and using brownfield sites more effectively.
• prevent increases in hard standing and encourage use of porous surfaces.
• introduce a moratorium on further building in flood-prone areas until drainage and wastewater management are improved.
• implement the government's national Pollinator Strategy and take steps to protect local ecosystems and biodiversity through promoting wildlife areas.
• encourage Sevenoaks District Council to draw up a local Pollinator strategy, working in conjunction with other stakeholders.
• improve recycling and waste collection by introducing comprehensive doorstep collection of glass, plastics and metals.
• publicise and support free WEEE collection.
• oppose out of town retail developments and, instead, concentrate retail in town and village centres close to transport hubs so that people can walk, cycle or use efficient public transport.
The government’s austerity programme (pursued for ideological reasons) has inflicted immense damage on our public services. Unfortunately, the other parties have no intention of remedying this. Whoever forms the next government, the defence of our public services will continue to be necessary.
Therefore, Greens will do all we can to protect key services from the cuts proposed by the Conservatives, especially for the elderly, young people and people with disabilities.
Although not responsible for NHS services, local authorities have considerable responsibilities in the Community Care and Public Health areas and work closely with CCGs to deliver Health and Wellbeing services.
We believe that the District Council should increase its support for self-help groups and work with community groups, charities, churches and other organisations to encourage healthy lifestyles and participation in the community to combat isolation and social exclusion. 'Green gyms', 'Walking for Health', healthy eating, allotment gardening and other active lifestyle activities should be encouraged.
Small and medium-sized businesses are key to our long- and short-term prosperity and the sustainability of our local economy. Locally, over 80 percent of jobs are in this sector. Therefore, we will:
• increase support for small and medium-sized businesses and independent retailers.
• use existing powers under the Localism Act (2011) to adjust council-tax rates downwards for small businesses.
• ensure that the cost of TENS (Temporary Entertainment Notices) is kept to a reasonable and affordable level.
• strengthen the local economy by encouraging an enterprising, innovative and sustainable business culture.
• support Farmers' Markets and set up designated advertising sites for markets and community events.
• promote the provision of affordable small business units.
• support the introduction of a supermarket levy with proceeds being used to help small businesses.
We regard secure and affordable housing as a human right. Too many people in the UK still do not have adequate housing. Under the Coalition government, homelessness rose dramatically, with 112,000 households approaching their local council for help in 2013/14 and 2,744 people sleeping rough on any one night in 2014 - a rise of 55 per cent since 2010. In one of the wealthiest nations on earth this is simply not acceptable.
Therefore, Greens will:
• build affordable new homes constructed to the highest eco-standards to save money for homeowners and tenants.
• review the local development framework and devise a Social Housing Action Plan.
• retrofit existing buildings to make them more energy efficient.
• lobby central government to remove VAT from refurbished buildings.
• support young people leaving care to make sure they are adequately and securely housed.
Strong and supportive communities are vital for the promotion of wellbeing, for environmental protection and social and family cohesion. Too many people are isolated and alienated from their neighbours, feel disempowered and are time-poor because of work and commuting pressures. In the long term, we believe that the work/life balance needs to change so that people can express themselves as active social agents rather than simply perform the role of consumer or producer.
Therefore, we will:
• protect community resources such as pubs, playing fields and allotments from ‘development’ and use the Sustainable Communities Act (2007) to designate "Assets of Community Value" in each parish.
• promote health by encouraging initiatives such as community gardens, community-supported agriculture and community-owned renewable energy.
• lobby SDC to initiate a Community Renewable Energy scheme.
• use Section 106 agreements more forcefully to ensure maximum community benefit is attached to every new development.
Sevenoaks is very well placed to benefit from its natural and historical assets, its proximity to London, its location within South East England and the quality of the countryside within the District.
Therefore, we will seek to:
• increase the area's tourist potential.
• encourage investment, especially in the clean tech/low carbon industries and high value-added industries that will form the core of a sustainable, green economy.
• encourage the rural economy and lobby for a faster rollout of high-speed broadband and the installation of free access wi-fi in town/village centres.
• encourage local food production. The District Council should work with partners such as KCC to establish viable locally sourced food for schools and all institutions where food is prepared.
We will pursue a rigorous environmental health policy by making sure that officers are based in Sevenoaks and lobby government to strengthen the Environmental Protection Act (1990).
The above are just some of the measures we think are necessary for a sustainable District that values all its citizens and insists on social and environmental justice.