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Labour Assembly member: green jobs future exciting but London needs to get there faster

Merton & Wandsworth’s first Labour Assembly member said she is excited about the future of green jobs, but the move to get there needs to be faster. 

Leonie Cooper, who has been deputy chair of the Assembly’s environment committee since 2018, promised to continue pushing the mayor on getting green jobs for Merton & Wandsworth residents if re-elected.

Sadiq Khan committed to a ‘Green New Deal’ in his manifesto which he says will support 175,000 green jobs. 

He also plans to launch a ‘green skills academy’ to help Londoners get into green jobs and apprenticeships.

Cooper said: “We need to be putting a lot of flesh onto the skeleton of these comments.

“There are some very high tech jobs but there is also low tech stuff such as installing solar panels and air source heat pumps.

“There are a lot of jobs out there so it’s a really exciting future but we do need to start moving towards it slightly faster.” 

She became the first Labour Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth in 2016, beating the Conservatives with a slim majority of 4,301.

Cooper, who worked in social housing and as an environmental sustainability manager for housing groups before entering politics, said her two priorities heading into this election have not changed since 2016.

She said: “The environment and housing are things that impact on people, everybody every day of their lives.

“Everybody deserves to live in an environment that is pleasant and contributes to their physical health, their mental health and their wellbeing. 

“For me, they are absolutely basic and integral.

“We’ve got to push the door on air pollution very, very hard now to try and move forward on that.”

Cooper’s words come following the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah from Lewisham, the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.

Cooper was quick to defend the controversial £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project, which will connect Silvertown to Greenwich. 

Sadiq Khan’s approval of the Silvertown Tunnel has come under fire from the Liberal Democrats who call it Labour’s ‘dirty little secret’ and say it encourages more people to use cars.

Cooper said: “Normally I’m not in favour of road building programmes.  

“At first I thought ‘why do you want to do this?’ but the M11 linking road has really reduced the congestion in that area of Hackney.

“I think there are cases where you just have to do it.

“The plan for the Silvertown Tunnel is to have 37 buses an hour going through it.

“If you go through the tunnel on the bus or by bike, it will be free, but if you decide to use a car you’ll have to pay the toll so I think it will encourage people out of their cars.” 

Her own political ambitions started from a young age, although she was not initially motivated by the values of the Labour Party. 

She said: “I did decide when I was about eight that I wanted to be the candidate because I wanted to wear the giant rosette but it was more to do with that than Labour politics.

“I suppose with my mother and grandfather so involved with the party it must have been hard to escape, but I did develop my own views.”

Her mother, grandfather and uncle were councillors for Hertfordshire, Southwark and Lewisham respectively. 

During her time on the environment committee, Cooper has conducted reports on food waste, domestic energy and fuel poverty but she is most proud of her record on single-use plastic bottles. 

Khan has dedicated £5 million towards funding more water fountains around London based on Cooper’s recommendations from 2017, after it was found the average London adult buys three plastic bottles a week.    

She said she would like to carry this work forward by having a zero plastic waste pilot where small and medium enterprises would be supported in using no plastic.  

The recommendation of ‘net biodiversity gain’ from her report on new housing developments has also been included in the latest London Plan.

Cooper, who contested the seat in 2008 and 2012 before winning in 2016, was candid about the prospect of another win this week, saying it was too close to call but thought there was a good chance she could win. 

She was first motivated to stand in 2008 after the British National Party became the official opposition to Labour on the Barking and Dagenham Council in 2006.  

She said: “The rise in extreme right wing parties was a wake up call and a huge shock to the Labour Party.

“Originally my campaign was not to win but to massively increase the Labour vote to make sure the BNP didn’t win two seats in the London Assembly because I don’t like fascists.” 

The London Assembly elections will be held on 6 May.  

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