Here in Sevenoaks we have the good fortune to live in a beautiful, green environment. We want to keep it that way.
Here’s what your local party, and the Labour councillors you vote for on May 2nd, will do to protect our environment.
Declare a climate emergency
All over the UK councils are declaring a climate emergency. This is a symbolic recognition that the greatest threat humanity faces is climate change, caused by human activity, and still reversible if we coordinate and act quickly. It is a statement of intent, that reversing climate change must be at the top of every political agenda. Labour councillors in Sevenoaks and Swanley will immediately table a declaration of a climate emergency and make our first priority as a council stopping climate change.
A new approach to a local housebuilding plan
The clearest example of the unaccountability of our local government is the insistence on rolling out the local plan in the face of passionate and growing local opposition. Labour will scrap the plan, and proposes a new approach.
The local plan proposed for Sevenoaks is the wrong plan. It is intended to answer the wrong question – how to meet artificial housebuilding targets imposed on us by central government, totally unsuited to the character of our mostly greenbelt district. It approaches it in the wrong way – by asking landowners and developers to submit their proposals first, and then consulting local people second.
The Tories will tell you they are powerless to stop it – that the targets are set by central government, and that in any case a distant and expensive appeals process will let landowners and developers get their way. This was the excuse they offered when they rolled over and let U&I’s plan to build over the centre of Swanley go to appeal unopposed and we expect to see the same excuse trotted out again.
Labour does not accept that the district council is so powerless to enforce the wishes of local people, nor that the promise of government after government to preserve our green belt may be overturned on this technicality. Labour will scrap the current local plan and start afresh with a new approach, asking local people what housing we need first.
Prioritise affordable eco-homes
We know that people in Sevenoaks and Swanley need more homes.
Many of us are lucky enough to own our own homes in Sevenoaks district. But our children may never have that opportunity in our lifetimes. The local plan calls for “affordable” housing, but the Tory definition of affordable doesn’t really mean a price that local people can buy on an average salary. Labour’s housing policy calls for genuinely affordable homes – homes within the means of local people, not London-priced houses destined to be snapped up by commuters.
The legacy we must leave the next generation is eco-homes that will work with our local environment, not more densely-packed brick boxes. And we more than that, we need the allotments, trees and community gardens that will make those houses part of a living, green community. Labour will demand any large development includes a provision to make it a viable green community we will be proud to leave our children and grandchildren, not just street after paved-over street.
We need homes that include the promise of proper social housing, and social housing that is fully integrated into the new streets and communities.
And most of all we need homes that come with the promise of infrastructure support – not just a few free rugby pitches, but the real infrastructure investment in roads, schools, buses surgeries and hospitals that thousands of extra residents will require. If we simply accept the local plan, the services on which we all rely will only become more constrained.
Tory district councillors might tell you there’s nothing they can do. Targets are set at Westminster. Appeals are heard in a special court and cost money to oppose. Buses and roads are the remit of a different branch of local government. But Labour accepts none of these excuses. Any local development targets must consider the wishes of local people. We will oppose any plan that does not, while working for the change in national government that will change those green-belt-destroying building targets. Infrastructure has to work hand-in-hand with housing, and we do not accept that one branch of local government should be allowed to simply pass the blame onto another. Labour will work in a coordinated, coherent way to bring these plans together and make them work for us – not just for landowners and property developers.
Review the use of herbicides and pesticides
Chemical spraying seems to be the norm for dealing with the maintenance of our shared open spaces and recreational areas. It’s a cheap option, but it shouldn’t be the council’s first solution as it will harm the ecosystems in which it’s used.
A local community energy company
In Nottingham, Robin Hood Energy is a not-for-profit, community energy supplier owned by the local council. It produces green energy, locally, for local people. That means they can keep their prices low, because they’re not beholden to shareholders demanding outsize profits. It means they can fight local fuel poverty, because the energy produced is part of the local authority’s remit. It’s an asset that local people can benefit from, and we can learn from their model and apply it here in Sevenoaks and Swanley.
On being elected to the district council, Labour proposes an immediate feasibility study for investment in a community-owned green energy company on Nottingham’s already-successful and proven Robin Hood model.
Sevenoaks District Council is proud of its weekly recycling service. But there is more that can be done. Currently there is no provision to collect food waste, but in Bromley, just up the road, food waste is collected and recycled as regularly as ordinary rubbish. Labour will investigate food recycling for Sevenoaks and Swanley as a priority.
Restore the free bulky item collection
Since the free bulky waste collection was abandoned as an alleged cost-saving measure, our district has experienced a plague of fly-tipping. Enforcement and detection against fly-tippers erodes much of the saving from the cancelled service, and some of the cost simply falls upon us, householders and often local farmers who find large items dumped illegally in gardens or amongst their crops and livestock. It’s no saving to abandon a valuable public service if the same costs are then borne through enforcement, detection and the knock-on effects on local residents. Labour will restore the free bulky waste collection and put an end to the fly-tipping that has exploded since the Tory council took this short-sighted decision.
Support green businesses
We’ll talk in more detail about our plans to support local businesses and revitalise our local economy in the following section, but at the heart of any plan that puts the environment first must be prioritising and supporting local green business. Labour in power will prefer businesses that can prove a commitment to environmentally-sound sourcing and practices.
End single-use plastics at the council by 2027
Single-use plastics are one of the scourges of our environment. Much of it ends up in the sea, too much of it is indestructible and the permanent pollution this causes will poison generations yet to come.
Every reform starts at home and single-use plastic is no exception. Labour in power will commit to ending the council’s use of single-use plastic within two terms, by April 2027, by finding green and plastic-free alternatives.