Image of the Merton candidates

Merton and Wandsworth London Assembly candidates quizzed on environmental issues

A hustings event was held in Wimbledon to allow the public to quiz Greater London Assembly (GLA) candidates on environmental issues.

The candidates for the Merton and Wandsworth constituencies at Wimbledon Library on 11th April discussed their environmental campaigns in detail, taking questions from the audience.

Speakers included Leonie Cooper, chair of Labour’s Environment Committee, Eleanor Cox, Conservative and local businesswoman, Pippa Maslin, policy and campaigns manager from the Green Party, and Liberal Democrat Sue Wixley.

LARGE TURNOUT: Audience listens intently to the candidates

Topics for the 90-minute discussion, included recycling and the disposal of food waste, air pollution regarding the proposed ULEZ expansion.

The conversation also touched on affordable social housing construction, as well as the proposed AELTC expansion into Wimbledon Common.

Labour’s Cooper proposed to establish water fountains across London to save on single-use bottles.

She also called for the reintroduction of DRS deposit return schemes at supermarkets (a fee for using single-use containers), and stressed the importance of biodegradable waste when over 70% of household waste, despite Wandsworth’s introduction of household food caddies in February, is incinerated.

Regarding ULEZ, the city’s expanded ultra-low emmission zone, Cooper emphasised the health and safety of children’s lungs, but said 95% of people have vehicles that comply with new limits.

She said: “The issue is particulate matter, people don’t appreciate that the tiny particles can get into people’s bloodstreams that have caused diseases from people’s lung to their brains.

“We should move ahead with moving the dirtiest vehicles off the road and bringing in cleaner replacements.”

She remained supportive of current Mayor of London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, regarding the status of social housing, stating the highest number is currently being built since the 1930s.

Cooper said: “We have moved towards building up which not everybody likes but this has been one of the ways that we have managed to increase housing whilst also protecting those necessary green lungs across the city.”

Conservative Cox emphasised the essence of nature being essential to mental wellness and focused on conserving London‘s open green spaces.

Cox said: “It’s not about which party you’re with but what relationships you can build.”

Regarding ULEZ, Cox opposed the expansion, arguing people who could not afford the tax should not be marginalised.

She said: “The ULEZ scheme has been rapidly rolled out in 12 months and has unfairly penalised residents, particularly in outer London areas with less accessible transport.”

Cox also stressed the importance of integrating nature into town centres by bringing the public sector and the government together.

She said the city should work with developers to provide, for example, swift bricks to aid ecosystems.

She said: “It’s not a huge expense, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be considering that.

“If you build on open spaces, what kind of community are you actually building?”

Like Cox, Green Party candidate Maslin’s discussion focused on improving air quality and enhancing biodiversity, noting that it is underspend that needs identifying.

Maslin described her so-called common-sense aims a result of precarity in human mismanagement, and those environmental issues are often not prioritised over, for example, personal health.

Maslin, supporting the ULEZ expansion, argued that polluters should be taxed fairly, with the Green Party looking to establish smart roads (measuring mileage and how much pollution the individual vehicle produces), and pushing for a pricing consultation.

Although Maslin said she felt pressure as the Green candidate at the hustings, she said: “I’ve enjoyed tonight, and I was really heartened by the turnout.

“I hope people come away with a better understanding of what each party has to offer.”

Liberal Democrat Wixley also focused on improving air quality and the preservation of open spaces, encouraging a ‘net zero’ target by 2030 (the cutting of carbon emissions to zero in the atmosphere), the latter of which she claimed Khan is ten years behind.

Regarding social housing, she called for more affordable builds (Maslin commented that many empty houses need filling), potentially converting office buildings, and noted the Liberal Democrats have encouraged Khan to increase his budget.

She said: “More brownfield sites should be used for house-building across London – I’m a YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard).

“The Mayor has only delivered half the homes required in order to make sure that all Londoners are properly housed.”

Funding for public toilets and access at Morden tube station was also briefly discussed among the candidates, as well as concerns about the safety of cycling ways and for river protection, namely of the Thames and Wandle.

WAITING FOR QUESTIONS: The candidates waiting for photos and questions.

One question that was raised was the AELTC’s proposed expansion into Wimbledon Common; all four candidates said that they would opposed it.

Wixley said AELTC should be sent back to the drawing board whereas Cooper asked for support to take a strong voice to oppose expansion on metropolitan Greenland areas.

Sustainable Merton partnered with Merton Friends of the Earth and Merton Cyclists Group to host the event.

Diana Sterck, Sustainable Merton CEO, commented that it could be hard for the public to comprehend the joining of different boroughs’ policies when responsibilities lie with multiple local authorities, not just the Mayor.

She said: “We had a really broad range of questions, so I’m really pleased with how it went, and I hope the audience have gone away happy.”

Merton Friends of the Earth Co-Ordinator Gabriel Partos said: “I was overjoyed by the hustings event with a lot of local residents concerned by the local environment, about climate change and about ways in which to make London a greener, cleaner and happier place to live in.”

GLA elections will run on Thursday, 2nd May.

A guide to the GLA elections 2024 can be found here.

For more information on the Wandsworth and Merton candidates:

Featured Image- The panel in discussion.

Credit for all images: Ina Pace.

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