Nick Eden-Green has been a City councillor for the Wincheap ward for a remarkable 21 years. Here he writes about the five best things about being a councillor.
It may surprise some people that there are any best things about being a councillor, given the often interminably long meetings and even longer reports that have to be read. Plus the painfully slow time it takes to reach a decision. But listening to people and getting a decision right is a penalty that I’m happy to pay. Democracy can be a slow process towards a good decision but it’s infinitely better than bad decision making by an autocrat.
So what are the plusses? Well, in no particular order.
1) Meeting people
(Yes, in normal times one could do that!). Yet even now one can meet at a distance, telephone, email, skype and text. I even get quite a few good old fashioned letters! Nothing like as good as a real meeting but one can still listen to other people’s views. True, I may not always agree with what other people say but it’s a councillor’s job to listen to what local people are saying and to make a judgement between often conflicting views.
2) Helping people
There are lots of things the council can’t do but we can help guide people in the right direction. It might be a matter for the police, or a legal issue or something for Kent County Council. We can try to listen and help. If it is a council matter we can contact the right people, unravel the problem and hopefully get a successful solution.
3) Influence decisions
The council may seem grindingly slow but it does make decisions that can affect all of our lives. Getting your bin emptied or your street cleaned can affect your daily life far more than whether or not the government decides to commission a new aircraft carrier. As a councillor I constantly strive to push the council in what I consider to be the right direction. It might be on whether or not to charge for collecting garden waste or whether an extension should be built on someone’s house. Our decisions are often important because they directly affect families in Canterbury.
4) Making changes
Sometimes there are real pressures where we need to make a change. It might be altering parking regulations in a road or brightening up an area with a mural. Sometimes there are big decisions which might change all of our lives locally, such as rebuilding the Marlowe Theatre or agreeing a new housing development. We can propose changes, we can influence the detail or indeed oppose them outright. This is where we can introduce and institute Lib Dem policies on things like building cycle lanes, 20mph urban speed limits, improved energy standards to our housing, building more social housing and so on.
5) Improving our district
We all want to make this a better place to live. The pressures are different in the rural villages and on the coast. In Canterbury we have particular responsibilities towards maintaining and improving our magnificent historic city. There are huge pressures from new urban fringe housing developments, increased traffic and pollution, unsympathetic new building design and changes to shopping patterns in our High Street. In the last 20 years there have been huge changes locally, some good and perhaps some bad. Major new housing developments in Station Road West, The Tannery, Whitefriars, Bingley Island. There will be more with the redevelopment of Debenhams, Nasons and Kingsmead. Some individual buildings, because of their prominence, can have a significant effect – The Marlowe Theatre, Station Road West multi storey car park, Augustine House and the accompanying student flats.
Current residents and future generations will judge us on whether we have got it right. Personally I am proud to have had some small influence on some of these changes but, sadly, I admit I’m deeply embarrassed by others which I think were great mistakes. To the credit of the Liberal Democrat group on the City Council we have consistently championed good design, building communities not housing estates, encouraging environmental measures, particularly allied to public health and leisure and been leaders in heritage and culture. For me, the greatest satisfaction has been representing the people of the Wincheap ward. It is something very special to be elected. It is of course a great responsibility. It is also greatly rewarding to have met so many decent, kind, warm and caring people. I look forward to meeting them all again very soon, and in person.
Posted by Nick Eden-Green
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