This is an open letter to Councillor Pete West, the Green opposition spokesman on the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.
The Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum is a resident group made up of a good many Green and Labour party and “independent” ward voters.
It is also one of a number of groups, businesses and individuals who comprise the Valley Gardens Forum (VGF).
We have learnt of a certain prejudice among councillors and officials that presumes the VGF to be a number of things it is not.
These prejudices need to be jettisoned quickly if the Greens are to retain their vital role in scrutinising the current administration.
The VGF is neither “a Tory battering ram” against party rivals nor a “pro-car lobby” or a gaggle of interest groups solely concerned about profit over environment. Far from it.
At the Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum, we have come to view the history of the VGF campaign as, politically speaking, something of a teachable moment.
At the beginning, the likes of Tom Druitt (Green) and Adrian Morris (Labour) were signatories to its first letter to Brighton and Hove City Council warning of the consequences of “phase 3” of the Valley Gardens project in its current form.
Since then, Brighton’s characteristically tribal politics required these voices to go silent and others (those of MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Councillor Jackie O’Quinn) to step away from the campaign almost as soon as they’d stepped on board.
Today, the fact that the VGF has the support of just two councillors (Conservative councillor Lee Wares and Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh) speaks to the tragedy of an issue crying out for a cross-party focus which has instead gone down the road of partisan, blinkered politicking.
In June last year you said: “My understanding is that the current impasse [our emphasis] is actually putting the funding of the project and therefore the project itself at risk, as it has to be delivered by … March 2021 – and we have already lost six months towards that.”
But the facts have changed.
- We now know that the deadline of March 2021 for completion of Valley Gardens phase 3 (VG3) has been extended by up to five years.
- We can also detect evidence that this final stage of the VG project – a progressive vision we all support (fewer cars, cleaner air, safer and enhanced spaces to walk and cycle, etc) – has been rushed. A number of vital details appear to have been approached with breathtaking incompetence.
- There is evidence that senior officers may have been less than transparent with the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee and many of us feel the Labour administration has relied far too heavily on officer assurances that everything will be ok.
Adding these three points together, we feel it’s high time that Green Party councillors reviewed their unswerving support for VG3 in its current form and, in particular, reviewed their undying support for the “come hell or high water” stance of councillors Anne Pissaridou and Nancy Platts that an “environmental impact assessment” (EIA) is not necessary.
We assume that by “impasse” you were referring to our campaign (although we suspect you forget that everyday citizens, as local residents and workers, are a vital part of the VGF).
But you went on to say, “and it is the express wish of the Valley Gardens Forum, as I understand it, not to jeopardise the project – but that is exactly what is happening because of their legal action and the delays that have been caused by that”.
Please remember that the VGF offered and paid for legal mediation between it and the council despite the administration having previously agreed to pay its share. It subsequently did not follow through on most of the actions agreed by senior officers at that meeting.
You were operating on the assumption of a fast-approaching deadline. Indeed, by October’s full council meeting – at which all Labour and Green councillors voted against an EIA bar councillors Druitt and Phillips who abstained – you very clearly held sway on the matter.
You said: “The obsessing by the Tories over keeping an unsafe roundabout and the vexatious concern about air quality is misinformation and scaremongering and really misses the point entirely.”
So, to conclude, the AANAF and doubtless all the 27 entities making up the VGF (and, we imagine, the 1,500 local citizens who signed the Change.org petition) are content that you should speak your mind about your Conservative Party rivals but absolutely object that you caricature our opposition to the, frankly, daft proposals as merely a play by political opponents.
Come on, Councillor West! Even the council’s own consultants warn against the removal of the Aquarium roundabout as a recipe for traffic congestion.
Given that there is no March 2021 deadline (the deadline was a “fact” upon which you urged Green colleagues to follow your lead), we feel that you must now accept you have a democratic duty to review the facts.
John Maynard Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir? When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”
It’s true, you may well doggedly “feel” that irrespective of deadlines or any urgency to get on with an imperfect project, the VGF and other citizen opposition to it is just plain wrong.
Fair enough. But this is all the more reason for the Green Party to apply scrutiny and substantiate its enthusiastic support for the current VG3 proposals by unequivocally supporting the call for an independent environmental and economic impact assessment.
Labour may want to turn its back on democracy but will the Green Party – now it knows deadlines are not a threat – continue to shun this demand?
Adrian Hart and Serena Burt are the co-chairs of the Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum.