Thursday sees elections for the mayor of London and London Assembly, but there’s also a council by-election in part of Charlton.
Voters who live in Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward – west of Indus Road and south of Charlton Park – are being asked to choose a replacement for Labour’s Christine Grice, who died a year ago.
While this has been a reasonably safe Labour ward in recent years, this hasn’t always been the case – the Conservatives took seats here in 2006. Whoever wins is only likely to be in place for a year – the seat is likely to be broken up before next May’s council elections.
Five candidates are standing: communications consultant Andrea Borbely for the Conservatives, Pierce Chalmers for the Liberal Democrats, neighbourhood watch coordinator Sharon Kent is standing as an independent, Odette McGahey is hoping to retain the seat for Labour, while retired biologist and immunologist Carol O’Toole is the Green candidate. All of them kindly answered our questions.
What made you want to stand in this election?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): There’s two Labour councillors already in Kidbrooke. Knowing that I could be an independent voice for, and make a real difference in, the community I love made me want to stand.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): I have grown up and live in the local area, this gives me a vested interest to help the community. I have been looking for a way where I can give a real positive contribution to the area and I feel standing as a local councillor was the ideal way to do this.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Someone needs to. As a neighbourhood watch coordinator and active ward panel member I have kept appraised of how the residents feel in this ward. I would like the opportunity to speak on their behalf in a manner that can help.
Odette McGahey (Labour): I have been a local resident for many years and I would love to represent the community in which I live.
Carol O’Toole (Green): As a scientist I am concerned about Health and Wellbeing in Greenwich. Air Quality in KWH is impacted by heavy traffic on the A2 and Shooters Hill Road. Most of the ward is deficient in accessible green space, mature trees and biodiversity which are integral to health are not protected. An independent voice on the council for ecology, biodiversity, and sustainable development is now essential.
Why are you a member of your party (or not a member of any party)?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): The Conservative Party believes in the power of the individual to better themselves and their communities, and, when it is in power, gives them the tools to do so. We have an optimistic vision of the local community, compared with Labour’s pessimism about how much any individual can do to make their life better.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): Of the main parties, I feel the Liberal Democrats were the party that had not strayed to the extremes and had remained representative of its values. This makes it a party I want to stand for, one where genuine discussion of ideas can be had and represent the needs of the public.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Because they just point fingers at each other.
Odette McGahey (Labour): I would like to live in a society where doing an honest day’s work pays for a decent quality of life. I have become increasingly concerned about rising homelessness, food bank usage and the general widening of inequalities in our country.
Carol O’Toole (Green): The Green Party has strong commitments to conserving and protecting biodiversity and sustainable development; improving air quality by reducing pollution from traffic; and stopping major roadbuilding in urban areas, such as Silvertown Tunnel project.
What makes Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward special?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): Quiet streets in the heart of a busy borough, green spaces in a city, and a vibrant community from diverse backgrounds.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): The ward is host to such a diverse community, from the schools to the different sports clubs that encompass the ward, each brings something unique to the area. This is also what creates the strong sense of community that this ward proudly displays to anyone that visits there.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Our diversity.
Odette McGahey (Labour): The people make it a lovely place to live. We have a great parade of shops with a wide range of things on offer and if course the lido. This makes it a vibrant place to visit and meet friends and neighbours. We also have some wonderful green spaces which have been a source of relief for so many of us through the last year.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Not sure.
What can be done to improve it?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): Put simply, a referendum on low-traffic neighbourhoods, more support than Labour is currently giving to our green spaces, a better voice for small businesses, and places and spaces for our young people to help them create a sense of community.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): One aspect that can be developed upon is the growth of the community, making sure that decisions help benefit the public and encourage the local community to work together. One way this could be done it to make sure we promote local events so they can be as successful as possible by getting as much of the area involved.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Keep it safe from those that would do us harm.
Odette McGahey (Labour): As we tackle climate change, I would like to see more green facilities like electric charging points for cars, and help people to move to renewable power sources in their homes, making sure we create opportunities for people to get training and jobs in the new green economy. I would be keen to encourage cooperative and not-for-profit means of achieving this.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Better planning laws which conserve and protect local green infrastructure.
What is the most pressing priority for the borough in the coming years?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): Greenwich’s Labour council has put up rents for new council tenants by around four times the rent of inflation. Earlier this year it was revealed the council had failed to update its Housing and Homelessness strategy, as required by law – in the middle of a pandemic! Too many council tenants are poorly served by their landlord – Greenwich Council. Fighting for them, and keeping council rents down is critical in the coming years.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): Following the covid pandemic one of the most pressing issues is to ensure the survival of the small business in the borough. We need to make sure our high street shops remain open and in business, these businesses represent the hard work of our community and bring life to the area.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Safety, safety, safety!
Odette McGahey (Labour): Housing. We need to build environmentally sustainable homes that people can genuinely afford to rent or buy.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Build resilience to effects of climate change, using natural capital
What can you do to help people relate better with what the council does?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): Being visible. The number of people who have told me they’ve never spoken to a local candidate before, from any party, on the campaign trail is shocking. As a councillor I’d strive to be as accessible as possible. More surgeries, more letters telling residents how I’m fighting for them, more knocking on doors. It’s so simple. Making the council relevant has to start with councillors explaining what they do on a day to day basis to as many people as they can!
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): The best thing I could do is to promote transparency from the council. Many past projects have gone ahead and had decisions made without informing or giving people the opportunity to voice their opinion. Increasing transparency will allow the public to stay up to date on decisions and to hold the council more accountable.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Be their voice. Listen to what they want and need.
Odette McGahey (Labour): I am really looking forward to working with local people to get things done in their communities. For example, I’ve been speaking to our local MP Clive Efford and we hope to work together with the people of the Shooters Hill estate to create a residents association to address their safety and other housing issues.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Make sure that residents are really listened to and informed before decisions are taken.
Many users of Charlton Park believe there should be more lighting to make it safer for people at night. What do you think?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): We are lucky to have some beautiful streets in our ward. However, further away from main roads, in residential areas, and in the park, visibility at night is nearly non-existent. If elected, I will ensure we all feel safe walking home at night. That’s one of my top priorities.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): Yes, I agree that there should be more lighting through Charlton Park. Ensuring people feel safe to walk around their local area should always be a main priority for the council, and if people feel this is needed then it is definitely something that needs serious consideration.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Lighting is important everywhere.
Odette McGahey (Labour): I will want to meet with users of Charlton Park regularly and support them with the work they do for our community. If there is a public safety issue, I would want to discuss this with the police, park users and local residents to find the best way forwards. If we agree that should be lighting, then I will do my best make sure it happens.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Important that ‘eco friendly’ lighting is used.
Is the Shooters Hill Road cycle lane a good idea?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): I’m 100% for reducing pollution and encouraging healthy modes of transport such as cycling. But, I believe that’s for the community to decide. One of the key promises made by all the Conservative candidates in Greenwich is that we should have local referendums on any further LTNs. The council hasn’t done enough to consult residents.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): I do feel that that the cycle lane can be very beneficial to the community, making it safer to cycle and in turn encouraging people to travel via bike instead of using cars. I would also like hear the public’s view on it as they were not informed about the bid before it was agreed.
Sharon Kent (Independent): No, it is unsafe.
Odette McGahey (Labour): The cycle lanes were brought in during the first locked down at the request of central government. The terms of the funding support prevented advanced consultation. I hope the lesson learnt from this is that consultation provides a vital function and preferably should take place before changes are made. The responses to the retrospective consultation are currently under review and I hope that the final solution will enable and encourage cycle usage without restricting the flow of emergency vehicles and normal traffic.
Carol O’Toole (Green): This needs to be monitored, as to whether it contributes to better air quality, reduces congestion and is safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
Do you believe there should be curbs on through traffic to stop drivers using Charlton Park Road, Marlborough Lane and Canberra Road as cut-throughs?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): Some of the current low-traffic measures introduced by the council simply divert congestion and pollution to residential areas. The Labour-run council is making decisions without asking the people who know best – the local residents. When I speak to them, they tell me they want the whole system looked at. I hear them, and back their desire for change. That’s what the Conservatives are offering. Labour needs to hear what local residents are saying and think again.
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): I would need to get further detail on the effects of putting these curbs in place on each of these roads. I would not want to promote a policy that would ultimately result in a detriment to the local community by causing worse congestion elsewhere.
Sharon Kent (Independent): Traffic needs to flow. Congestion is the enemy.
Odette McGahey (Labour): I believe people should be able to enjoy peace and quiet in their homes without noise and pollution from rat-running traffic. I would be very happy to meet with local residents to discuss this issue and bring about changes they need.
Carol O’Toole (Green): Yes.
Have you had a dip in Charlton Lido since it reopened?
Andrea Borbely (Conservative): I feel the cold very badly! I’ll be going when the weather is a little warmer (I can’t wait for the two or three days of ‘summer’ we get every year!).
Pierce Chalmers (Liberal Democrat): Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Charlton Lido, however as an ex club swimmer I do look forward to finding the time for a swim.
Sharon Kent (Independent): I am not a keen swimmer.
Odette McGahey (Labour): Sadly no, but I am a fan and I’m very tempted, especially when I see beautiful blue skies like we have today.
Carol O’Toole (Green): No, but will be there soon.
Thank you to the candidates for answering the questions. Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday.
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