Candidates pitch their policies at hustings event
Ideas for making Jesmond safer, cleaner and bringing residents and students together were aired and debated last night (April 30th) ) as the North and South Jesmond candidates hoping to win election tomorrow to Newcastle City Council gathered at Jesmond Library for JesmondLocal’s hustings event,
The Question Time-style event was aimed at helping Jesmond voters make better informed choices. “We value local democracy, and holding these hustings is one of the ways we contribute to the functioning of local democracy,” said JesmondLocal editor Ian Wylie, addressing an audience of around 60 people. “And we also do it because we value local journalism, which we think should go hand-in-hand with local democracy.”
Questions asked and points made included
1. Who should pay for the increase in litter in Jesmond?
Martin Levy of the Communist Party stated that litter is a problem for the whole of British society, with no other option than the council paying for keeping Jesmond clean.
Tony Waterston of the Green Party stressed the need to prevent the litter in the first place by promoting deposit schemes and reducing waste. He said he believes that the role of government and council is key but there are benefits to voluntary organisations such as ‘Keep Jesmond Clean’.
Liberal Democrat candidate Gerry Keating highlighted the council’s legal duty to pay, but argued that landlords should take responsibility for keeping student streets clean.
Lesley Storey of the Labour Party disagreed with Levy, arguing that “every single one of us should pay, it’s about the collective community.”
Ian MacGilp of the Conservative Party said he regards littering as another form of anti-social behaviour, describing it as an ‘act of selfishness’. He said he would prefer for the individual to pay, as it is their responsibility, and for the council to take a step back.
2. How would you ensure a good mix of students and permanent residents?
All the candidates agreed that students and residents are equally important to Jesmond’s community and wished not to make a distinction between students and residents. Lesley Storey commented: “Let’s not talk about them and us, let’s talk about us.”
Gerry Keating, however, pointed out his assertion that there is an insufficient population of young adults living in Jesmond, with only 5% being children.
The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Communist Party expressed their support for improving services for children and young families in Jesmond, to create a more sustainable community.
One audience member suggested that more could be done to make students feel more welcome, encouraging them to stay in Jesmond once their education is completed. This would ensure a higher percentage of young families and children in this area.
However, another resident said there is an ‘incompatibility’ between students and residents which needs to be addressed.
3. We know the council will have to cut more services in the future – £60m by 2022: What would you cut?
The Labour Party’s Lesley Storey said she believes the council has done the best it possibly could in the circumstances. However, she highlighted the need to discuss any further cuts with the local community, including residents and students, an idea which got the support of all candidates.
Conservative candidate Ian MacGilp said it was difficult to answer the question as ‘tough choices’ need to be made and ‘an adult conversation’ is required. Services like running a park, for example, do not require special training, he suggested, and could therefore be cut.
Martin Levy of the Communist Party argued that the council needs to be proactive and work with the trade unions. He said: “Austerity is a political decision, not an economic decision.”
The Green Party’s Tony Waterston said he believed that council taxes as well as parking charges need to be raised. He said there is also a need to invest in the local community and for funds to remain within Jesmond.
Gerry Keating of the LibDems said it would be ‘foolish’ of any candidate to specify a certain cut.
Ideas from the audience included community energy schemes and methods of setting priorities.
4. How do we get more people out of their cars and into other modes of transport in Jesmond?
The youngest member of audience, Lizzie, expressed her worries about her daily journey to school on Tankerville Terrace where cars represent a threat to the children’s safety – her question received loud applause from the audience.
In response, the Labour, Green and Communist Party candidates agreed on the benefits of cycling which would, however, require an improvement of cycleways. Additionally, all candidates saw advantages in closing off school roads at drop off and pick up times to help ensure children’s safety.
An audience member asked if schools should be made to impose restrictions. Labour’s Lesley Storey argued that restrictions need to considered in a wider context, particularly in regard to the ‘micro journeys’ that mums and other carers have to make during the day.
In order to get more people to use public transport, the Conservative Party’s Ian MacGilp suggested making it ‘cleaner, more reliable and cheaper’ which got support from the Communist Party’s Martin Levy, who stressed the need for a ‘massive shift from private to public transport’.
But Lib Dem Gerry Keating said: “There are no easy wins. It’s got to be done gradually, or it won’t be done at all.”
However, from the audience, local councillor Stella Postlethwaite responded: “We are working to make Newcastle a carbon neutral city by 2030, and we can’t take things slowly.”
Another audience member expressed concern about the ‘Mobike’ scheme being withdrawn from Newcastle. Labour councillor Arlene Ainsley, who is the cabinet member for transport, said the council was in conversations to bring a new e-bike scheme to the city.
5. Would you support or oppose the proposed HMO licensing changes and why?
When discussing the proposed licensing of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), the Labour Party’s Lesley Storey argued that the changes will make sure properties are well maintained and that tenants are protected. Ian MacGilp of the Conservative Party agreed but voiced his concern that the licensing might be used to move students out of Jesmond.
From the audience, Newcastle University Students’ Union president Raff Marioni explained how the proposed changes might be used to force students into purpose-built city centre hall accommodations, which would be more costly for students.
(JesmondLocal has reported at length on HMO licensing and its potential effects for residents and landlords.)
6. Has enough been done to tackle anti-social behaviour in Jesmond? What would you change?
Candidates agreed that students are often falsely blamed for anti-social behaviour. Lib Dem Deborah Burns commented that universities are very active in tackling any problems and the Conservative Party’s Ian MacGilp argued that Jesmond as a whole is a very safe place to live.
However, the Labour Party’s Lesley Storey acknowledged that there is a problem with anti-social behaviour and expressed concerns about it not being taken seriously enough. Clare Andrews of the Green Party suggested more emphasis on student integration.
From the audience, NUSU President Raff Marioni said some letting agents were partly to blame for marketing some streets in Jesmond as “party streets”, giving students a wrong idea of how to behave. He urged more conversation between the council and letting agents.
Lib Dem Gerry Keating said he found it effective to meet with noisy neighbours and that a frank conversation concluded by a handshake often avoided further arguments. His colleague, Deborah Burns, agreed that “communication is key”.
7. What can be done to motivate voters to turn out at this election?
The Communist Party’s Martin Levy said that, although it is probably too late for this year’s elections, voters need to feel like their vote makes a difference, a suggestion which received the support of the Conservative Party’s Ian MacGilp.
The Green Party’s Clare Andrews also agreed, saying the best way to get more people engaged is to “get involved and be involved”. She pointed out that in order to get more students to take part, they need to know that they can vote in local elections at home, not only at their student residency.
Deborah Burns of the Liberal Democrats said that she’d heard some residents in South Jesmond say they feel like they haven’t been listened to. However, the Labour Party’s Lesley Storey disagreed, saying she’d heard positive feedback about South Jesmond’s councillors.