Podcast: Sian Berry and green achievements

Elected greens always tend to punch above their weight. Whether it is a local council chamber, the London Assembly, or Parliament itself, a Green in the room will change the dynamic of most conversations. Sian Berry has a string of successes from her time as a member of Camden council and the London Assembly. This podcast (on Podbean) talks about some of the key changes Sian has achieved and gives a taste of what will happen in the 2020 Mayoral campaign.

The recording took place as the Extinction Rebellion was dominating the news. Last year a Green Party councillor in Bristol, Carla Denyer, put a motion declaring a climate emergency and several months later, there are over 70 councils with similar declarations, along with the Scottish Parliament and the Mayor of London taking up the idea. We even have the Labour Party and others promoting the idea in Westminster. Things have shifted and elected greens have a role to play in making that shift a permanent feature of our political life.

Sian is part of Generation Rent, not able to afford to buy her own home, and her personal experience has informed her drive to create more social housing that is high quality and genuinely affordable. She has continued campaigning in defence of tenants’ rights against Labour councils seeking to knock down their estates and rebuild as luxury flats. In the last election she took forward the Green Party demand that tenants should have the final say in regeneration schemes and this has been adopted by the London Mayor.

I worked with Sian in changing the government guidance given to councils about the use of Property Guardians. This is where people pay a low rent to live in empty buildings or homes to provide security for the owners. While this is done in agreement with the owners and usually everyone benefits, Sian wanted to ensure that there are a minimum set of legal rights for the people involved. She worked with campaigners on this, wrote a report for the London Assembly and Jenny took this up with the Minister in the Lords.

London becoming a Red/Green city is a bold claim, but Sian can see it happening in the Proportional Representation elections for London Mayor and Assembly. The Greens came third in the Mayoral elections of 2012 and 2016, with Sian winning the majority of second preference votes (nearly half a million) in 2016. I realise that there is a big leap from third to a second place run off with Labour, but the Conservative Party has a less than stellar candidate who is polling badly. With politics in so much flux, a historic breakthrough is possible.

Sian’s 2016 Mayoral campaign was based upon the Greens having a strong record of delivery in the previous sixteen years on the London Assembly. Sian and Caroline Russell have added to that record but the 2020 election will also be about competing visions of the capital’s future. Above all, how London can take the lead in combating climate breakdown and combine this with policies that put social justice at the heart of what we do.

On i-tunes and Player FM

Housing for the community

I raised two crucial issues about community housing in the Lords. First, the need to put an end to estate demolitions that destroy working-class communities. I have seen several council estates demolished against the wishes of the residents themselves and when rebuilt the social housing is less affordable and some of the housing is sold off privately and very expensively. I understand why Labour councils do it; they have been kept short of money by this Government. But it is an extremely damaging process.

My second point is about boosting community-owned housing. It has often been said that more housing could be built but often nimbys are blocking it—but in fact, many communities are stepping up and providing more affordable homes through community-led housing. Such groups have already built 800 homes in recent years, many in areas of outstanding natural beauty, having won support for more homes than the local council thought likely or even possible. In the spring of 2016, the Government announced the community housing fund, designed to help community-led groups build affordable homes. It could help them to build a further 12,000 homes over five years. The first year’s money went directly to councils, but the Government has still not released any funding for this financial year, more than halfway through the year. When I asked the Government in July when the money would be released I was told, “In due course”. The appropriate time would have been in March, after the sector submitted a detailed proposal to the Government. The longer it waits, the more projects get stuck in limbo and the fewer homes acceptable to local communities can be built. A decision from the Government on the community housing fund is long overdue. When will it happen?

My questions and the response can be found here