10 min read

Stroud Elections Focus: Green Party

Stroud Elections Focus: Green Party

Catherine Braun is interviewed by Laurie Davies

Catherine Braun has been the leader of Green Party at Stroud District Council since she was successfully elected in 2021 and stepped into the role as Leader of Stroud District Council in 2022, after a series of resignations of Labour councillors made the Green Party the biggest within the alliance.

We meet on a Sunday morning over Zoom, Catherine has had a busy weekend of campaigning.

We started our conversation with a few fun questions, and I learnt that Catherine has an excitable golden retriever, has three favourite hills in Wotton and when she was young, she would have loved to have been a professional crafter but ended up studying Law and has a keen interest in policy.

With the less serious questions complete we get to the nitty gritty and I’m keen to find out what the Greens main priorities are, who are the new candidates within the party and the other pressing issues for the council and what the Greens will do to tackle these.

Catherine is obliging of all my questions and very proud of what she and her Green councillor colleagues have achieved in their time as part of an alliance over the last 3 years but she is keen to tell me there much more to be achieved and she would be honoured to take the position of leader again if re-elected.

I put to Catherine a series of questions to a get a full idea of her party's priorities.

Throughout the conversation Catherine is keen to get the details of their policies correct often takes time to check their manifesto and key pledges. Its clear she takes her position as Leader seriously and is keen on detail.

What about the diversity of candidates across all parties? Do they fully represent the diversity of Stroud?

WE STARTED WITH IF Catherine thinks her councillors fully represent the diversity of Stroud, and if not, how can she can improve that?

“Well, you know, I don't think we're going to entirely represent the diversity of Stroud. I think what is important is that we are aware of the diversity of Stroud and not all of the councillors will themselves necessarily be from different communities across Stroud, but as long as we engage with those communities and that we're aware of the importance of doing that I think the council can still be representative of those people.

“They don't necessarily need to be councillors. I'm really pleased that we have got some younger councillors particularly, Cate James-Hodges, who's standing and got a lot of experience from being on the youth council.
Meet the woman who could be Stroud District’s youngest-ever councillor | Stroud Times
If she wins the seat of Stroud Central in Thursday’s Stroud District Council elections, Cate James-Hodges would become the youngest person ever elected to the Council. The 19-year-old – Leader of Stroud District Youth Council and winner of last year’s Stroud Town Council Young Person of the Year award – talks about her background and aspirations.

“We've done a lot of work as well on equality, diversity and inclusion, as you know, at Stroud district, and thinking about equity as well within that mix. So, over the years, I think we've started to explore different ways that we can engage with different communities.

“Having a community task force was great. Members of the community who are representing a whole range of different backgrounds and, and diverse communities were invited to take part in that piece of work.”

Tell me about your new candidates

THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF change in terms of who is standing where, but are there any brand new candidates that you’d particularly like to tell us about?

“As I have previously mentioned Cate JAMES-HODGES. She's standing in Stroud Central and she lives in the ward. She really understands some of the challenges that we're facing as a council whether that's to do public transport or environmental issues, she's done the performance monitoring for Strategy and Resources Committee and is one of the most engaged people on that group. So I think she would be a real asset to the council.

“For the other wards. We've got Natalie ROTHWELL-WARN, who's standing in Stroud Slade ward. And she's really interested in community health and wellbeing and thinking about the wider issues about what the community would like to change. So, building on the work that's already been done. And I think her motivation was rather than just feeling disappointed and complaining about politics, wanting to get involved and to try and support people to make changes.

In Stonehouse, we have two great candidates, who we are particularly promoting Carol KAMBITES and Madelaine MARABOLI-ROMAN, who are both standing there, the Bristol Road station is a really big campaigning point for both of them and if they're elected, and if the greens are elected, we'd really like to do some more work to really strengthen the business case for that station.
In Nailsworth we've got Kate KAY and Rod NELSON standing. Kate is Norman Kay’s wife and for her it's been quite a journey, it must have been an emotional roller coaster for her over recent months having lost Norman late last year.

“She's been involved in local politics for many years, and at the parish council level, so she's got a lot of great experience. And we're really pleased to be welcoming her.”
Norman Kay obituary
Other lives: The first Green party chair of Stroud district council in Gloucestershire and former mayor of Nailsworth

If the Green Party were to form the administration after the election, what would be your priorities?

I THEN WANTED TO KNOW what the three top priorities where for the Green Party to undertake at council level, if re-elected.

Catherine chose housing, a greener, cleaner district and thriving market towns and villages. She gave details of what all those priorities actually meant:

“Housing in so many ways. We've spent over 10m million pounds on housing, retrofit of social housing properties over the last five years. And it really has been one of our priorities.

There's an ongoing programme of house building and it's sometimes difficult to do that, and financially affordable homes always needs a subsidy. So, we have to work hard to find that subsidy from grants.
“Then there's a whole piece of work around temporary accommodation, making sure that people who are homeless have somewhere to go, and there's so little accommodation locally, that's appropriate for homeless people.

“I guess the other ones are really around kind of a cleaner, greener district. So, thinking environment, environmental objectives, Biodiversity Net Gain is coming in as a requirement for planning applications.

“So we need to make sure that biodiversity is being more considered in all the work that we do there and making sure that we're really considering climate and nature and all of the decisions the council takes right across the board.

“Clearly, we've got great advantages already having lots of parts of the district along the Cotswolds way we get lots of walkers, helping the visitor economy, which helps thriving local businesses.

“So there's lots to do I think around the thriving market towns, I wouldn't want to say what the solution is, because we are still going through that consultation process.

“And we're looking for some decisions in the autumn around how that funding can be spent in the first tranche. It's about tackling empty shops. It's about trying to make the high streets look more attractive. It's about encouraging people to shop local.”

Sometimes people say that there’s not much councils can do, it’s all about what happens nationally, in Westminster

Tell us: does it really matter who’s in power at Ebley Mill?

“Well, I think it does. I do take that point that, you know, councils funding has been cut overall, over the last 14 years in particular.

“But it really does matter, because we get to steer what the priorities are. So as the administration, we've been able to set the Council Plan. And the Council Plan sets out where our priorities are going to be.

“One example is some of the funding that we got through COVID, Contain Outbreak Management Fund [COMF - Government support scheme for Local Authorities], we were thinking about how to use that and the choice that we made was that we need to refresh some of the play areas across the district.

“We put £300,000 into refreshing play areas, and providing new equipment for young people.

“That was a real priority because people always talk to local councillors about the state of our play areas is a real issue for parents and carers, just having something somewhere nice and local that they can play.”

Nationally here’s been a lot of coverage of the state of local council finances and about the cost of living crisis for our communities. What would your group do at council level to address these two things?

“Okay. So, first of all, I suppose with cost of living crisis, we have given around £300,000 and allocated that to organisations across the district. Some of it has come through grants, some of it is money that we've allocated as a council.

We declared a cost of living emergency and that was really to reflect how difficult it is for most people across the district.

“And for some people in particular, who are really struggling just with keeping things going day to day. The statistics that we receive from the council's partners, Citizens Advice and the food bank, shows that things are getting more difficult, not easier for people.

“We're very fortunate that we were in a good position at Stroud district. But we have to complete a Medium-Term Financial Plan

“We have to assume that central government needs local government to be financially viable and to continue because otherwise, the costs are enormous.

“When councils collapse and become bankrupt, those bills end up with national government.

“A lot of the things national government wants to deliver they know can only be delivered by local government.

“So it's in everybody's interest to have a viable, financially viable and financially healthy local government sector.”

Stratford Park Leisure Centre

THE STROUD LEISURE centre is being taken back into local council control, having been run by contractors for many years.

What do you think about this, what do you think should happen to improve and protect it?

“I’m very excited that it is coming back into local authority control. A huge amount of work went into the preparation to making this decision, every single aspect has been considered.

“What I am l keen to see when we do bring it back in house, is improvement in services and being more responsive to what local people would like to see, the times they want to use the services and investment in the services over a long time frame as some of the buildings need updating .

“The lido certainly needs investment, its already had some grant investment but it would be nice to be able to plan for the longer term.

“I think there is a real benefit to be able to link our leisure work more with health and wellbeing work services. For example, the services that can be prescribed by GP’s.”

The Local Plan

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES and opportunities around the local plan, do you think?

What would your priorities be in relation to that?

“We need to put this in context and remember what happens if we don’t have a local plan. Tewkesbury council in October last year spent £500,000 on fighting and losing appeals against speculative development because they didn’t have a 5 year land supply.

“That meant that speculative development were more likely to succeed and even if they refused it, the developer would appeal and the council would try and defend their decision and they would lose and waste a lot of public money and we don’t want to be in that position.

“Central government is very keen that councils have plans and a plan-led approach

“We decide where we do want development to happen and that developers are enabled to build within that location and not in the locations that are not suitable.

“We have developed the local plan over many years, its not just about housing allocation its also about economic development, it’s about regeneration of brownfield sites, allocating land to renewable energy and it’s also about the quality of the homes and the buildings that will need to be sustainable in the future.”

The future of the Co-operative Alliance

STROUD HAS BEEN GOVERNED for 10 years or so by a ‘Co-operative Alliance’, with the leadership depending on who is the largest party in that alliance, but Labour withdrew from it a couple of years ago which obviously had a big effect on your role in council.

What is your group’s attitude to an alliance in this term?

“We are always keen to collaborate and work with others. The majority of decisions that we take quite often have cross-party consensus. We would still be keen to collaborate whatever the outcome of the local elections.

I decided to ask a follow up question to make sure it was clear and asked would the Greens collaborate with the Conservatives as part of an alliance? Catherines reply was short but clear;

“I don’t think that’s an option that we could support”

Find out more about the Green Party 2024 campaign

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Here in Stroud District we have a positive story to tell, please read our Green manifesto for positive change in 2024.

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