Local Democracy Reporter Richard Beecham speaks to senior councillors from each of the main political groups on Leeds City Council to find out what their priorities are for the forthcoming local elections on May 6.
Today it’s the turn of the Green Party’s group whip (and Farnley & Wortley councillor) Ann Forsaith.
Coun Ann Forsaith feels that now is the time for the city to take a step back and have a good look at the way we are living.
The past year has taken its toll on all of us and, with lockdown restrictions slowly lifting throughout the first half of this year, Coun Forsaith believes the time is now to “build back greener”.
But first thing’s first – we’re all living in the here and now. So what are the problems people have been coming to her with since the start of the pandemic just over a year ago?
“Speeding is a problem,” she said. “Since lockdown there are a lot more small groups of people who seem to think the road is theirs. There have also been issues with anti-social behaviour, but I have to say, there was not as many of those as I thought there might be, with everyone being at home.
“What has been highlighted is how important community is, and be aware of how much people supported each other – and the importance of communications.”
Coun Forsaith is part of the three-strong Green contingent on Leeds City Council, and she was first elected to represent Farnley and Wortley at the last local vote in 2019.
So has being a councillor matched up to her expectations?
“Nothing has surprised me about how the council works,” she said “Although I know now that because of the funding, post Covid, there are very significant challenges financially.
“The transport strategy is out at the moment for consultation – transport is the huge issue that needs concentration. Coming out of Covid, there needs to be, I think, an opportunity for communities to build back green.”
One environmental idea that has picked up traction in the past few years is that of the “20-minute neighbourhood” – a concept around living locally and allowing people to meet most of their needs within a 20-minute walk from home.
Coun Forsaith said:
“We often see things happening in the city centre – but the majority of people don’t live in the city centre, so how about 20-minute neighbourhoods?
“Being able to walk and cycle to where you need to get to, people supporting each other and many more growing their own food and being given the capacity to do so.”
“As far as the city centre goes, there is a big challenge there – are people really going to be going back and shopping the way they did – in shops? A lot of places are going to be empty.
“Look at the business opportunities to build local independent businesses – not just selling things, but making and mending things. We need to think outside the box.”
“The Covid emergency has happened within the climate emergency. What we do now is going to determine what the future looks like.”
One of the big plans to come out during the lockdown are early blueprints for mass transit covering Leeds and the rest of West Yorkshire. However, Coun Forsaith believes that, such is the urgency of the climate crisis, Leeds no longer has time to wait for a new mass transit system to solve its emissions issues.
“If we were to go down the route of having a mass transit system, we are talking 15 years – we haven’t got time for that,” she said. “We need to think outside the box.
“Car sharing – we don’t need to own a car. We could call up cars from a pool of cars when we need them, especially with the digital technology we have available.
“I’m an optimist – if something is challenging and difficult, while you need to get through that, there are often positives to it, and you have to make the best of things.
“Over the next few years, I would really love to see communities becoming more resilient, more robust, kinder and looking after each other. Leeds has got that ethos anyway, I am so pleased that I have been in Leeds over this last year than elsewhere.
“The one thing I hope for this election is that people will go and vote.”
The Greens traditionally get a larger share of the vote than their numbers of councillors would suggest. The 2019 local elections, for example, saw the Greens gain well over a quarter of the votes for Labour and more than half that of the Conservatives, but only saw one councillor elected, compared to 19 for Labour and seven for the Conservatives.
Coun Forsaith said the time had come to have some form of proportional representation in elections, both locally and nationally, adding:
“It is time that the two major parties accepted that we have a democratic deficit in this country.”
The local elections take place on Thursday, May 6.