Transport and bins dominate debate at hustings
Transport, including the aftermath of the Acorn Road consultation, and Jesmond’s bins – the subject of a recent BBC2 documentary – dominated discussion, and triggered a few skirmishes, at last night’s well-attended JesmondLocal hustings. Residents were given the opportunity to quiz the candidates for North and South Jesmond in the upcoming local election.
All candidates standing for election were invited; in attendance last night were the following:
Engaging Jesmond’s voters
To start the debate, candidates were asked how they would get more people engaged with politics, whether it be students, residents or businesses. Stokle said The Scottish Referendum showed us how to engage people in politics, with record numbers of young people being involved. Sinclair highlighted that “engagement is key”, and was not the only candidate to emphasise the need for more positive engagement with students. Magowan said the process starts early, students need to be told and understand their role and responsibilities within the community.
Allibhai hopes to engage residents, students and businesses alike by “being available to them around the clock and inspiring them with [her] actions, but also challenging their preconceptions”. She highlighted that “communication is key”. Similarly, Keating discussed how he engages with people by holding meetings and speaking to people, adding “getting out there and doing it is how you engage”.
Candidates were asked whose vote mattered more to them: students or residents. Whilst most candidates agreed that neither group could be prioritised, Stokle said his focus was on non-voters of the younger generation who “have really got it hard, coming out of university with loads of debt”.
Magowan pointed out that the “engagement process should not ignore either of either of these groups”, going on to call the Acorn Road consultation process a “failure”. Perry continued to then suggest that residents were disengaged with the Acorn Road consultation process, sparking a heated argument with Woodwark, who said he made it clear that every voice mattered.
Keeping Jesmond’s roads safe
This led on to a discussion of the safety of Jesmond’s roads. Sinclair suggested the roads seemed “quite safe in general”, whilst his colleague, Lee, said he wants to be “a fresh voice and listen to what the community want”.
Allibhai believed there is “lots of work to be done in Jesmond” regarding road safety, outlining that we need to make “better use of public transport”. The TUSC’s Stokle argued “we should have free public transport and encourage cycling”.
Futhermore, Naqvi said she doesn’t think “the roads are particularly safe for cyclists or pedestrians” and raised the ongoing issue of Tankerville Terrace. She went on to explain that “the school run is particularly difficult for all parties […] it’s not great place to be, you want to get out of there as quickly as possible”.
On this, Keating challenged Naqvi, as he suggested the problem outside of West Jesmond Primary School was parents dropping children off in the wrong place and lorries delivering to the school, making it the school’s responsibility, not the council’s.
Two audience members quizzed the candidates about transport, both raising concerns about the poor behaviour of cyclists and motorists and how attitudes can be changed.
Woodwark responded: “the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter which mode of transport you are using, there are a large amount of people who are inconsiderate”. He went on to suggest that “the only way around that is some kind of enforcement”. Perry promoted an educational campaign to both cyclists and motorists to improve behaviour. This was met with agreement from Magowan.
Following a 15 minute break, hosts Ian Wylie and Chris Stokel-Walker dived into a new set of questions, including some proposed by audience members during the short interval.
— Fergus Hewison (@BBCFHewison) April 29, 2015
Candidates were asked what they propose to do in order to manage anti-social behaviour, seeing as Newcastle City Council’s Night Watch scheme was scrapped in mid-February.
Candidates appeared divided over this question, with Lib Dems and Labour agreeing that anti-social behaviour should primarily be dealt with by police. For Labour, Allibhai said “anti-social behaviour is a priority of the police”, and Perry suggested universities should also play a role in preventing anti-social behaviour from a small minority of students living in Jesmond. The Lib Dems’ Keating suggested that there should be a “programme for areas where anti-social behaviour prevails the most” and there should be “lots of police activity in those areas after hours”.
However, the Green party and Conservatives believe the solution lies within engagement. Naqvi called police measures “draconian”, whilst Magowan suggested anti-social behaviour is a “community problem, and there should be a community solution in order to build a positive relationship”. Sinclair and Lee agreed that the solution was working with students and universities in order to minimise the students who make this anti-social behaviour.
The TUSC’s Stokle believes the night noise service should be reinstated by building a campaign to demand more money to fund it.
The heated topic of bins arose and candidates began squabbling as Perry said “the first thing I’d do is stop the Lib Dems spending a quarter of the ward budget on cleaning six streets, one of which a councillor happens to live on”.
A member of the audience suggested Perry was making a slur at another candidate, and asks for clarification. Councillor Peter Breakey, in the audience, said he believed the comment was targeted at him. Breakey said Perry and Keating were made aware that the council officers insisted the street was included. Perry responded that “councillors should be telling the council which streets need cleaning” and not vice versa.
The debate continued on bins. Magowan suggested “we need to make responsibilities clear to students”, whilst Naqvi added: “we need to tackle the problem together and introduce positive incentive schemes for residents”. Woodwark said there needs to be more “education for people to actually use their bin correctly” and suggested enforcement, “so that they are made aware that it’s not acceptable” if they don’t use it correctly.
Lee suggested there needs to be a “more organised bin system, while Sinclair added “the community needs to pull together”. Stokle said we need to “demand more resources” and “employ more street cleaners”. Allibhai called the Big Tidy Up programme, where residents volunteer their time on litter picks, “brilliant”. She noted they are only a “short term solution. We need to make it more socially unacceptable to drop litter”.
Supporting local businesses
With new plans underway for a Sainsbury’s store in Jesmond, candidates were asked whether there are too many supermarkets in Jesmond and how they would encourage independent shops.
Most candidates appeared to agree that Jesmond has a good balance and is supportive of both supermarkets and independent shops.However, Stokle said he is not in favour of supermarkets although he recognises that economic conditions mean people have to use them as they are the cheaper option.
Though the Green party did not suggest there were too many supermarkets in Jesmond, they did express a concern about independent shop closures in the area. Magowan went on to explain that their party is “dedicated to protecting small businesses” and spoke of the Green party’s plans nationally to raise corporation tax for big businesses, but not for small, independent shops in order to encourage their growth.
Both the Lib Dems and Conservatives appeared to agree that the market should decide, although Sinclair added that “we can vote with our feet – it’s up to us to decide whether we support particular shops”. The Labour candidates expressed their favour of independent shops, although Perry added “having a choice of supermarkets is a great thing”.
One audience member spoke about his difficulty given the cost of living and expressed his interest in an Aldi being opened in Jesmond. He said that “if Aldi was a political party, I would vote for them”.
Bringing young families to Jesmond
The issue of housing was brought up when candidates were asked how they would attract families with young children back to Jesmond.
Stokle said “we need a programme of building affordable housing so young people can afford to buy the houses”. Naqvi appeared to agree with this, saying that “we need a vision of what kind of Jesmond we want to attract families into, we need housing that’s affordable”.
However none of the nine candidates mentioned the lack of open spaces and recreational spaces for children in Jesmond, which an audience member pointed out when the debate was opened up to the floor.
Making Jesmond’s air cleaner
Candidates were asked what they would do to improve air quality, which Perry answered first by saying we need “more sustainable transport – better bus services, more walking and cycling and try discourage people from using cars”. He gained vocal support from the floor for mooting a congestion charge.
Stokle reiterated that he thinks public transport should be free, whilst Naqvi discussed how the Green party is the only party with the most progressive ideas looking at “air quality, climate change and reducing carbon emissions”.
A rising tide floats all boats?
On the assumption that Jesmond is a pre-dominantly a wealthy, middle class area of Newcastle, the candidates were asked whether it was residents’ duty to help less affluent wards in Newcastle.
Magowan again returned to affordable housing, suggesting that this should be a priority in order to help other less affluent wards in Newcastle. Keating was clear: “Jesmond should get the same funding as every other ward”.
As the JesmondLocal hustings event came to a close, the candidates were asked their final question. If elected, what is your vision for Jesmond?
For Labour, Perry said he wants a “clean, tidy, respectful, balanced Jesmond with open spaces”. Allibhai said she wants Jesmond to be a place “where young people want to settle down, shops and restaurants are thriving and residents are actively engaged in the community”.
Conservative candidate Sinclair said “it’s about engagement and bringing everyone together”. Lee added that he wants to see “more businesses and markets to go from strength to strength and students to be able to stay following their graduation”.
TUSC’s Stokle wanted to see a “more equal society – Jesmond will only be a good place to live if the surrounding areas are too”.
For the Lib Dems, Woodwark said of what he classed as a soft question that he wants a “better, more communal Jesmond we can all live in”, whilst Keating says he is focussed on developing Jesmond and to use authority to fix things rather than “setting up visions in the sky”.
To this, the Green party’s Magowan took umbrage: “There is no ambition, there’s no vision,” he said. “When you tell people to vote and then say there is no community vision then why would they bother?” He added that he wants to see a “cohesive community”. Naqvi finished by saying, “I want a Jesmond based around living spaces, not cars. We need a better, healthier environment”.
Sean Edward Seddon canvassed immediate reaction from some of the candidates, and their supporters, after the hustings.
To relive the hustings as it happened, debate point by debate point, read our live blog of the event here. Video of the evening’s highlights will follow soon.