Is Brighton Council Green?


For many of us, there is no more important issue on the modern political agenda than climate change and the overall state of the environment. Brighton’s residents have been leading the charge for a better world in recent years and the city has a strong affiliation with the Green Party and the green movement.

Is Brighton Council Green? No, in the strictest sense it is not anymore. The Green Party-controlled Brighton council in 2010 but lost their control to Labour in 2015 and 2019 saw Labour cement their hold on Brighton’s council. However, it is fair to say that the Green Party still has a significant influence over Brighton Council’s policies and the council remains one of the “greenest” in the UK.

2010 When Brighton Council Went Green

In the 2010 council elections, Brighton residents overwhelmingly supported the betterment of the city of Brighton and both Labour and the Conservative party came behind The Green Party in the polls. The Greens picked up 21 council members to 18 for the Conservatives and 14 for Labour.

This made Brighton the first council in the country (and to date, the only council in the country too) to be managed by the Green Party.

However, as you can see – this did not give The Green Party a majority of seats on the council and it formed a minority-led council which relied on cooperation with both of the other parties (to some extent) to get the job done.

Unfortunately, The Greens gained control of Brighton Council as the worst of Britain’s austerity measures began to bite. Many of their most ambitious plans for the city simply could not be realized due to a lack of finances allocated by the central government.

Also, due to, presumably, their lack of political experience the party often found itself fighting with the other parties and even within its own party. Including one infamous moment when a political coup was put into place to oust the party’s leader Jason Kitcat by his own members. The coup failed but the image of a party in crisis remained.

What Went Right Under The Greens In Brighton?

It is fair to say that the Green Council of 2010 had a very rough time of things and they didn’t achieve as much as they had clearly hoped to when they arrived in office.

However, their flagship project succeeded, and this was to have Brighton & Hove declared a “One Planet City”. That is a city which uses resources in line with there being only a single planet to take from, rather than (as was the case in 2013) a city which uses resources more than 3 and a half times as much.

The first action under this program was a rollout of insulation into council housing which was expected to cut energy costs and at the same time reduce carbon emissions. The party claimed this was a great success with tenants providing “before and after” copies of their fuel bills to show the impact of the initiative.

There were 10 key commitments adopted by the city council into a City Sustainability Action Plan thanks to the One Planet City declaration which include:

  1. A zero-carbon footprint. To make all the buildings in the city energy efficient.
  2. A zero-waste footprint. To reduce waste, to reuse whenever possible and to try and ensure that nothing goes to landfill.
  3. Sustainable transport usage. That is low carbon emission transport and a drive to reduce the need to travel within the city.
  4. Sustainable material use. That is the adoption of sustainable products throughout the city that embodies “low energy”.
  5. Local, sustainable food focus. Sourcing food locally and ensuring it has the minimum environmental impact.
  6. Sustainable water usage. To make the water used as efficiently as possible and at the same time to tackle both flooding and local pollution into watercourses.
  7. Sustainable land use and protection for wildlife. Creating new spaces for creatures to thrive.
  8. Sustainable culture and community. To use art and events to create communities that are focused on green measures and low environmental impact.
  9. A fair economy. Examining inclusive and equitable measures to create workplaces that support the local community and fair trade.
  10. Health & happiness. Finally, to encourage active, as well as social and meaningful living that promotes overall health and welfare.

The good news is that the commitment to this action plan appears to be continuing and the last update of the plan was published in 2017 with an expectation of a new plan to be released when the city’s website update is finally completed this year.

It is also worth noting that before the government implemented “living wage” conditions nationally – Brighton under the Green Party had had 102 out of the 400 businesses that were committed to paying a living wage (irrespective of the law) in the entire country. This was a huge achievement which demonstrated the party’s understanding that people matter as much as policy in the fight for a better world.

What Went Wrong Under The Greens In Brighton?

The biggest problem that the Green Party encountered was austerity-driven cuts. They had promised to maintain or improve living standards for council employees and to fight for their jobs. In the end, it turned out that with an £80 million shortfall in the budget – this was simply not going to be possible.

This might have gone down better with local residents if the councillors hadn’t seemed to wash their hands of the problem and passed it on to administrative staff. In the end, rubbish collectors and street cleaners saw their salaries slashed by up to £4,000 a year each.

This, of course, led to strikes. Lynne Truss, the author and Brighton resident told The Guardian, “The place turned into Armageddon,” she wrote. “Helped by foxes and the seagulls … a tide of used teabags, eggshells, soiled kitchen paper, banana skins, smelly tin cans, and used sanitary towels (yes!) advanced in such a determined and menacing manner down nice residential streets, you could almost hear it breathing.”

What was even more problematic for the party was that their only MP Caroline Lucas, who also represents Brighton, was on the side of the striking workforce and not the local authority!

The party continued to deal with shrinking budgets throughout its time in power and its poor handling of these cuts led to the results of 2015 and 2019.

What Happened To The Green Party In Brighton In 2015?

With the city suffering under austerity, and with a split within the Green Party, it is hardly surprising that 2015’s elections saw a collapse in support for the party. The Greens lost an incredible 10 seats and were reduced to just 11 seats on the authority.

The Labour party gained minority control with 23 seats and the Tories managed 20 seats also overtaking The Greens.

This did not lead to the elimination of the Green Party as a political force in the city (and indeed, Caroline Lucas would soon be returned to parliament to represent Brighton & Hove) but it did mean the end of their control over the council.

What Happened To The Green Party In Brighton In 2019?

Caroline Lucas remains the MP for Brighton & Hove in an election which saw a landslide victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. In the local elections, there was also a comeback for The Green Party which managed to obtain 19 seats, only one behind Labour’s 20 seats.

As you can imagine this means that the Green Party remains a significant power in Brighton’s local politics and we would expect to see more Green measures implemented over the coming years. However, at the moment, Brighton & Hove’s authority is redeveloping its website and it appears to be slower at communicating changes than it has been in the past. This redevelopment should soon be complete, and we’d expect more news at that juncture.

So, Is Brighton Council Green?

As of 2019, Brighton Council is not Green in terms of being managed by the Green Party, the Labour Party is the minority leader of the local council as it holds one more seat than the Greens.

However, it is fair to say that the Green Party has a huge amount of influence on the council’s policy development and that Brighton remains a national leader in Green policies. It is true that the Green Party has had some teething problems in their brief flirtation with power, but it is also true that a learning experience is an essential part of coming to grips with Brighton’s needs. We would expect 2020 to see a raft of new Green policies being announced in Brighton and would recommend keeping an eye on the local authority website if you want to know what’s going on.

Carlo

Local Tour guide of Brighton and blogger

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