Croydon questions: Gordon Ross, Green Party

Inside Croydon has circulated all the Sutton and Croydon candidates standing for election to the London Assembly with a set of questions.

Over the coming days, we will be publishing the candidates’ responses in full, unedited, and without the artifice, interruptions and grandstanding of the usual hustings.

We think you’ll find it very revealing.

Gordon Ross: "plans for an incinerator in Beddington are unjustified and unnecessary"

Gordon Ross, the Green Party

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family?

I grew up and went to school in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. I went to the University of Dundee where I studied Architecture before switching to Biology. I went on to study Biotechnology at the University of Tennessee. More recently I went back to university as a mature student to study Russian at the University of London and St Petersburg State University.

I work as an editor for a national business and culture magazine, based in Croydon.  I’ve lived in Hertfordshire, London, Edinburgh, Dundee, Tennessee, North Carolina and New York. I now live with my partner and two dogs in Selsdon.

How did you become so involved in politics?

I was always interested in current affairs, and joined the Green Party six years ago, as it had policies that matched my views on social equality and environmental issues. I felt that the other parties were not serious about tackling poverty, protecting public services and the environment.

What are your interests outside politics?

I walk my dogs, paint and draw, read about art and design, and study foreign languages.

Who would you describe as the biggest influences on your life and your political outlook?

When I lived in Tennessee I had a friend, Bill Powell, who lived in a run-down half-abandoned inner city area. He helped his neighbours to rebuild their community. He found out about planning laws and government grants, and campaigned to get money spent in the area. Empty houses were renovated, new homes were built on empty plots by the charity Habitat for Humanity, families moved in, a shop and offices opened. The abandoned High School was reopened as a community centre, police academy and youth training centre.

He was an inspiration in that he was helping people in his local area, and showed me that just one motivated dedicated person can make a big difference.

My historical political heroes are FDR and Gandhi.

What is your favourite part of Croydon?

My favourite part of Croydon is the woods in Selsdon.

Is there any realistic alternative to the introduction of an incinerator in Beddington Lane?

The proposed plans for an incinerator in Beddington are unjustified and unnecessary.

The Conservative-led council’s approval of incineration fails to take into account the human health and environmental impact of such schemes. If the incinerator goes ahead residents will be tied into an expensive 25-year contract to feed it with waste from Croydon and elsewhere, with lorry loads of rubbish being brought into the borough. Building an incinerator would be bad for air quality and human health, would increase lorry traffic and suppress recycling rates.

We can’t afford to burn materials that are recyclable; it’s a waste of useful resources. Up to 93 per cent of household waste could be recycled or composted. There is no need for an incinerator. Recycling and composting offer more environmental benefits and lower environmental impacts than incineration.

The whole incinerator project is based on predictions of huge increases in the quantity of household waste being disposed of, when in fact the amount of waste is decreasing, as more and more material is recycled and composted. Defra reports an 8 per cent drop in the amount of household waste over the past 10 years, together with a 39 per cent increase in the amount recycled or composted.

The exaggerated claims of how much waste we will need to deal with in the future are being used to try to justify the building of this unnecessary incinerator.

London has poor air quality. Building an incinerator in a built-up urban area is certainly not going to improve the quality of the air breathed by residents. Even after the fumes have been through filters, incinerators still emit significant levels of NOx gases, nano particles, and potentially dioxins, all of which have a well-documented serious impact on human health.

High temperature combustion processes such as incineration generate nano-particles with metallic, dioxin and aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) coatings, which may be much worse for health. The review by Cormier et al (Origin and Health Impacts of Emissions of Toxic By-Products and Fine particles from Combustion, 2006) is strong evidence, while various research papers are establishing tangible public health impacts (Univ. of California study 2008 – Air Pollution may Cause Heart Disease; shows nano-sized particles are the most damaging).

There are plenty of good reasons to reject incineration as way of dealing with our waste. The alternatives of adopting zero-waste strategies, waste reduction and reuse, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion have far less impact people and the environment. I hope residents will get involved, and stop this expensive and unnecessary incinerator from being built.

Gordon Ross campaigning in Croydon with the Greens' candidate for London Mayor, Jenny Jones, and Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson

Rents seem to go ever upwards. What would be your solution to London’s housing problems?

The main problems with housing in London are the lack of affordable housing, rundown properties and empty homes, and insecurity for private tenants. The Green Party will only use GLA money and land to build housing that is affordable. We will give tenants more control over their homes and longer secure tenancies.

We will support responsible landlords to bring empty properties back into use. We will insulate properties to tackle fuel poverty, reduce heating costs and cut carbon emissions, while creating jobs in the clean energy and insulation industries.

There are 74,553 homes standing empty in London, and 3,638 in Croydon alone (figures from the charity Empty Homes).

The vast majority of these are privately owned, and standing empty because the owners don’t have the money to renovate them, or are holding on to them to benefit from rising property prices.

We can’t allow these homes to stand empty when there are people crying out for decent housing.

The Green Party proposes to use GLA money and assistance to responsible landlords to bring their empty homes back into use.

The Greens’ target for building affordable homes for London is 15,000 per year, with 40 per cent of these to be family-sized. On the issue of rents, the Greens have taken inspiration from the growing success of the campaign for a London Living Wage, and proposed an officially recognised London Affordable Rent, based on average earnings and household size.

The Green Party proposes help to housing associations and housing co-ops to build more affordable housing, and renovate empty properties. Nationally we propose a massive programme to build more Council houses.

We will lobby for reforms of the private rented sector, to make tenants more secure in their homes with a five-year secure tenancy agreement, to protect tenants from rogue landlords and letting agencies, along with tax reforms to allow responsible landlords to invest in their properties.

What lessons should Croydon learn from the 8/8 riots?

After the 8/8 Croydon riots last year, Gordon Ross says that "we need to look at the issues of social deprivation and lack of jobs for young people"

The riots of 8/8 were criminal acts carried out by a small minority, who saw an opportunity to loot and riot. The causes of the riots were many and complex: materialism, opportunism, crowd mentality, use of social media, insufficient police numbers, poor parenting, lack of youth employment, lack of social cohesion, the list goes on…

We do also need to look at the issues of social deprivation and lack of jobs for young people. Some of the wards in the north of Croydon are among the most socially deprived in London. Societies that have less disparity between the poorest and the wealthiest like Sweden don’t have this kind of social unrest.

One contributing factor to the riots may have been youth unemployment. People with well-paid jobs are less likely to loot and riot. The Green Party plans to create 150,000 apprenticeships for young unemployed Londoners, paying at least the London Living Wage with half a day’s off-the-job learning. We call on the Government to make apprenticeships mandatory for a wide range of industries, as is the case in Germany.

How would you deliver on your party’s promise to rebuild trust in the police?

We will make the police work more closely with local residents and businesses to keep a visible presence on the streets. We’ll protect and expand the Safer Neighbourhood teams, and protect police stations from closure.

We will end the overuse of stop and search and other tactics that alienate the communities the police most need to work with.

Are Greens “against” economic growth and the extra jobs this would bring?

The Greens want to rebuild the economy so it works better for all of us, rich and poor, and for the environment. We want to rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on banking by boosting the manufacturing sector.

We believe in an active state that invests in jobs in sustainable areas of the economy, like infrastructure, public transport and clean energy. We want to boost small and medium-sized companies and co-operatives as they create more jobs and keep more money circulating in the local economy. We have to remember that the country’s resources are not infinite, so endless growth is not possible or desirable.

What have Green Assembly members achieved on the London Assembly in the last four years?

Green Assembly members have:

  • Secured increased funding for the London Living Wage, which has put millions of pounds in the pockets of low paid workers.
  • Held the mayor to account on jobs and apprenticeships for young people.
  • Kept air quality on the political agenda and campaigned for the Low Emissions Zone and better public transport.
  • Supported local campaigns against privatisation and hospital and library closures, and the loss of green public spaces.
  • Led the pressure that resulted in new planning protection for front gardens.
  • Jenny Jones AM led an investigation into what can be done to protect London’s small shops, and she fought the closure of the Metropolitan Police Commercial Vehicle Education Unit, which instructs HGV drivers on road sharing and awareness of vulnerable road users.
  • Darren Johnson AM led the Environment Committee investigation into Heathrow expansion. The report showed that the economic benefits were exaggerated and the environmental impacts understated, and led to the scrapping of plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

Why should people believe your London party’s promises to cut fares and actually get a reduction in traffic?

We will make it so that it is always cheaper to use public transport than to drive.

The Greens have a raft of policies to try to tackle Croydon and London's worsening traffic problems

We want to discourage unnecessary car journeys, and make public transport the better option.

The Green Party would get TfL to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over cars, to make the roads safer for vulnerable road users.

We would introduce a 20mph speed limit on all roads where people live and work, to improve road safety, cut fatalities and improve quality of life in local neighbourhoods.

We would increase the frequency of suburban trains, extend the London Overground to serve Sutton, improve services to Croydon and south-west London, complete CrossRail, and increase capacity on the busiest bus routes. We would invest in tram, light-rail and Tube extensions to increase passenger carrying capacity.

Explain the Green party’s policy on congestion charging. How could it work?

This is a replacement for the congestion charge – an upgrade that will make things fairer and more efficient.  At present a person who spends all day driving around central London pays the same as someone who makes a five-minute journey.  Someone outside the congestion zone pays nothing, whilst someone who just pops into it briefly has to pay.  This isn’t fair.

Our new scheme would mean there was real flexibility for the motorist.  Charges could be minimal for example at off-peak travel times or on less congested routes and streets. Allowances might also be made for how far we drive and the type of vehicle driven.

It is the real polluters and heavy users who make life miserable for the rest of us who should be paying, whilst everyone else reaps the benefits. Road pricing addresses the true costs of congestion, noise and air pollutants.

Everyone agrees that London’s economy suffers because of congestion.  There may be an economic loss of between £2 billion and £4 billion each year as a result of congestion (dwarfing the cost of Tube strikes estimated at £48 million a day). There is a flight of existing jobs out of London and economic damage occurs when there is a loss of inward investment. There is a loss of time in business trips and uncertainties and costs surrounding logistics in a congested city environment.

There is also the huge health and social toll that we are already paying.  More than 4,000 premature deaths a year in London are linked to air pollution.

The benefits to business of the scheme include cutting congestion, which means that goods and services can be delivered more quickly and efficiently right across the capital.

But this is also a measure that will benefit the right kinds of business, and the ones that need help the most. For example it will give local and small businesses an advantage over larger ones from outside their local area. It will give a much-needed boost to local shops on the high street as well as keeping money within local economies.

Businesses in the existing congestion charging zone will also benefit from a level playing field being treated in the same way as those outside the zone.

Road pricing for London is fairer, will cut congestion, and improve air quality. If we do it now we can benefit financially in the future. Other countries will inevitably need to follow. By developing the technology we can then export knowledge and skills to others and be a global leader in road pricing.

Gordon Ross at work at his home in Croydon, with his dogs

How will you use your second preference in the Mayoral election?

My first preference vote for Mayor is going to the Green Party’s Jenny Jones, and my second preference vote is going to Ken Livingstone.

Wouldn’t it just be better for the Green party to concentrate on getting their voters to focus on voting for the top up list so as to maximise the size of the Green party on the Assembly as you stand no chance in first past the post seats?

We stand Green Party candidates for every seat at every election whenever we can, because we want people to be able to vote for the Green alternative. You have to be in it, to win it.

Do you think that Croydon Council will ever have an elected Green Councillor?

Yes, we will see a Green Councillor elected in Croydon.

St Helier or Croydon University Hospital? Which one would you prefer to see keeping its A&E department in the context of the review of the NHS in South West London?

I think that both A&E departments should remain open, we need a full range of hospital services available to people locally in Croydon and Sutton. I also want to see the outpatient department maintained at Purley War Memorial Hospital.

As a member of the Green Party LGBT group what do you feel the London Assembly should achieve on LGBT concerns?

People’s relationships, sexual orientation and gender identity are an important part of their humanity, and should be fully recognised and supported. The London Assembly should help all Londoners regardless of their age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, faith or any other form of identity. The London Assembly should work to protect LGBT rights as part of their work to ensure all Londoners are treated with respect and free from discrimination.

Would you take any employment outside City Hall, if elected?

No, if elected I will concentrate on the job of being an Assembly Member, and not take outside employment.

  • Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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