Your Steyning Magazine Councillor Interviews: Mike Croker, Nick Hopkinson & Simon Birnsting

Bringing Sustainable Transport 'Higher Up The Agenda' - Local Elections 2021 - Green Candidate, Mike Croker

In a series of interviews with the local Councillor candidates pitching for your votes, Your Steyning has spoken to Green Party candidate, Mike Croker, about his campaign.

Mike has a 'history of involvement with the Green Party' having been an active member of the climate community since he retired from the mechanical engineering industry and has a wealth of experience when it comes to 'how councils work'. He was also previously the Treasurer of Green Steyning for 9 years. He says that this role sparked his interest in 'the green side of energy'.

Although Mike does say that 'public engagement is not a strong suite of mine', he believes that this is countered by his offer of a 'dose of realism' thanks to his background in mechanical engineering. He believes that this pragmatic, practical and genuine approach to politics differentiates him from the other parties and will help to achieve his objectives of lowering West Sussex’s carbon emissions if elected on May 6th.

In 2019, Mike 'topped the poll' in the Bramber ward, which he said was much to his 'surprise' and was 'very grateful to Extinction Rebellion and David Attenboorugh, who really changed the climate at that point'. He described this opportunity as a 'steep learning curve' as it was 'difficult to get things done' due to the Conservative majority on the council, but they were able to 'stick pins into people - metaphorically - to get them thinking'.

During this tenure, Mike was successful in getting 'a motion to declare a climate emergency', although this was 'amended' when you look at the 'small print'. Nevertheless, Mike stresses the importance of the motion and says that it initiated a sense that the 'majority party in Horsham recognised that there is a problem and that we need to do something'. He describes this process as 'pushing at the edges' to ensure real change is achieved.

When it comes to this election, Mike’s key pledge is to 'bring the importance of sustainable transport much higher up the agenda'. This would involve cycling, walking, bus and trains, with a 'refocus away from building new roads' and 'talking about keeping what we’ve got in good condition'.

In order to further encourage sustainable transport, Mike would like to investigate how you can make 'non-sustainable transport more difficult'. An example of how this could be done is by introducing 'quadrants' where you 'could enter a quadrant in a car, but you couldn’t go from quadrant 1 to quadrant 2 - you’d have to go around the outside to do that' on a 'ring road'. Mike believes that this should reduce 'obstructions to movement in a sustainable way'.

If elected on May 6th, Mike says that he will always put the 'Green Party’s principles first' as he fully recognises that there is a climate emergency and is 'stressed by the lack of action which is being taken from central government downwards'. He will therefore never fail in 'making the green argument' around the decision-making table in local government.

Liberals Have A 'Tradition Of Excellence In Local Government' - Local Elections 2021 - Liberal Democrat Candidate, Nick Hopkinson.

In a series of interviews with the local councillor candidates pitching for your votes, Your Steyning has spoken to Liberal Democrat candidate, Nick Hopkinson, about his campaign.

Nick starts the interview by talking about his 'extensive experience' as a senior civil servant in the Foreign Office’s executive agency in Steyning, for 23 years, with an outturn of £4.5 million. During this time, Nick 'helped influence government policy on Europe' and is proud of 'turning a £250,000 lost into a small surplus'.

Since then, Nick has served on the parish council for three years and was 'influential with regards to getting a better understanding of the mandate the council had' with a 'skateboard park issue which was very controversial at the time'.

Nick says that 'one can always do better than one has done' and that 'no-one has achieved perfection' - when asked what he could have done differently during his extensive career, Nick admits that he 'could have been more forthright to change the direction of certain management priorities'.

As a result, Nick is hoping to win the upcoming elections to take control over the priorities of the council and implement Liberal Democrat policies.

When it comes to the council’s finances, Nick says that he has a strong record of being 'sound with finances' and 'wouldn’t waste millions of pounds on compensation and service failure', further describing this wastage as being 'rife in the current Conservative administration in West Sussex County Council'.

Although Nick would be less wasteful than the 'regressive' Conservative administration, he says that the Liberal Democrats in office would 'not cut budgets as much as the Conservatives have' and 'would seek to maintain spending', with investment in schools and the environment, yet will be 'more prudent' in terms of spending than Labour, with a 'broader focus' than the Greens.

A key policy for Nick is ensuring that 'schools have the support they need' as the 'national Conservative government has been quite shambolic with its treatment of education - saying you can go to school one day and then the next day you don’t go to school - we would be more consistent'.

As has been a common theme amongst this series of interviews, Nick feels keenly about the issue of climate change, saying that Conservative county councillors are 'not green and can’t be trusted' on its 'green promises'. Nick says this is because of leaving the European Union, suggesting that the Conservative government 'will try to diverge from EU rules on climate change, which suggests a possible weakening on the UK’s commitment to climate change'.

The Liberal Democrats strongly oppose this, and stand for 'investing more in buses, cycling and pedestrian facilities' and 'investing in local flood prevention' in West Sussex. In addition to this, Nick would 'fully support' the introduction of a 20mph zone to 'decrease emissions, noise and provide safer streets for pedestrians and motorists in Steyning and Bramber'.

If the Liberal Democrats win an overall majority in these council elections on May 6th, Nick strongly believes that they could manage the council 'much better' in terms of spending and will continue the Liberal Democrat’s 'tradition of excellence in local government'

Representing People Who Have Been Ignored By Successive Generations Of Conservative County Councillors' - Local Elections 2021 - Labour Candidate, Simon Birnsting.

In a series of interviews with the local councillor candidates pitching for your votes, Your Steyning has spoken to Labour candidate, Simon Birnsting, about his campaign.

Simon has worked as a Parish Councillor for the past 16 years and is proud of the changes which he has been able to make to the local community. During this tenure, Simon helped to bring forward street tree planting to change the street scene', implemented grants to replace equipment in the play areas, and instigated a maintenance plan to improve West Sussex’s pitches so they are renowned as being one of the best football and cricket pitches in Sussex'.

However, when asked about what he would have liked to have done differently, Simon said that he wishes he could have been more on top of the detail in some of the things which we’ve done', although he does add that this is extremely difficult when he was a volunteer and had a full time job. Simon is therefore hoping to become an elected councillor in these upcoming local elections.

Simon’s main point of differentiation from his competitors, according to him, is that he will do much more to represent the views of young people on the council. He declares that his focus is on young people' due to the huge sacrifices' they have made as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Labour’s 4 campaign subjects are education, health, transport and housing' as Simon believes that young people have been very badly done by' in these areas due to the Conservative councillors in West Sussex. With education, Simon says that Labour has had concerns' with the academisation of Steyning Grammar School as they oppose the idea of academisation as it takes away a lot of democratic control and community involvement in school'. Simon believes that this happened due to a lack of support from WSCC' - this is an example of the wider failures of WSCC to provide the kind of services we need'.

Although the climate and environment emergency is not just an issue which concerns young people, Simon believes that people of all age groups have much more to do in tackling the problem. He states that this is the most pressing issue in politics right now' and, far too often, people do not fully comprehend how serious the threat is, and quite how little we’ve done to deal with it'. He believes that far more action is needed than just moving to electric cars and wind turbines, describing this as tokenism'.

His suite of actions to tackle the climate crisis in West Sussex includes providing real leadership' on the issue - he says that the Conservatives at West Sussex are making a big show of saying that we’re going to make West Sussex County Council carbon neutral. What they should be saying, in my opinion, is that we’re going to make West Sussex carbon neutral'.

In addition to this, on the local level, Simon is passionate about the Arundel bypass issue, which he describes as a hugely expensive' method of getting people to the next traffic jam one minute quicker'. Instead, Labour in office would look at integrated transport which we can coordinate as a county so people don’t have to use private cars as much'.

Simon sums up his approach to politics as one which analyses how a policy is going to allow more people to have better lives'. For example, he believes that more and more people are getting frustrated that they’re paying now a 5% increase in their council charges, yet they are getting fewer and fewer services'. Simon says that a vote for Labour in the local elections on May 6th will be a vote to represent the people who elect me' and for a councillor who will be standing up for the people - not explaining why we can’t do things, but helping them campaign to get things done'.

By Michael Shirley, Year 12, Steyning Grammar School.

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