Neil Harris, a village Conservative hopeful in May’s local elections, explains why he – and his party – should be given a chance . . .
Q Tell us a little about yourself:
I live in Rowney Green, where I have lived for more than 20 years, raising four daughters, and I have lived in the district throughout my life. I was a member of the steering committee for the original Alvechurch Village Design Statement and have been a school governor in the village. I am very much a person with their roots in North East Worcestershire.
Q What made you decide to stand for Alvechurch Village ward on Bromsgrove District Council?
It seems like the “right time”, what with the adoption of the Alvechurch Parish Neighbourhood Plan and the pressure on the Green Belt around the village, to step forward and offer to best represent the village with the knowledge and skills that I have.
Q The independent candidate beat the Tories with more than 50% of the vote (compared with 33%) in Alvechurch Village Ward less than two years ago. Do you think people are more or less likely to vote Conservative now?
The decision will rest with the people of the village; a good debate and giving people choices is what matters. 2019 is a new moment and we go forward from here – a lot has changed in two years.
Q If elected, what would you do when told to vote along party lines, when you know it is not how the people in Alvechurch Village Ward would want you to vote?
I would expect that my experience and skills from business plus local knowledge would be helping to make the policies that the people of Alvechurch will want.
Q As someone with a particularly good professional knowledge of how developers work, and having been involved in the creation of an earlier version of the Alvechurch Village Design Statement, how do you see the threat to the Green Belt around Alvechurch and across the wider Village area?
The threat to the Green Belt around Alvechurch is very real but there is a danger of being alarmist about it too. There are far more sustainable and deliverable sites to accommodate larger scale housing need than there are around Alvechurch. What it needs is someone to explain that.
Q Should Bromsgrove be doing more to resist the threat of housing from Birmingham, especially when the city is refusing to build on its own green spaces?
Bromsgrove needs to make its case. Around Birmingham and the Black Country there are a huge number of potential housing sites and Bromsgrove needs to play its part in those discussions making the arguments to make policies that local people want.
Q As a professional in the field, what did you think of the Hearn report suggesting 15,000 homes between Alvechurch and Barnt Green? And do you think the Conservative group should have pushed, as they did, to have it included in the current District Local Plan consultation?
A difficult question to answer in a nutshell, however, the Hearn report probably wasn’t a very helpful document but it has started the debate. The Hearn report is most likely already outdated; there is a need for the case to be made for what local people want, now.
Q If elected, and if the Conservatives manage to hold on to a majority at Bromsgrove, how do you think you can bring change to make the council as a whole more effective on behalf of the people for whom it is supposed to be working?
My working life has been spent building alliances and helping to “make things happen”. I would hope to bring those skills to bear to work for the people of Alvechurch.
Q Do you think a unitary authority could be a good way forward?
Parts of what a unitary authority would bring may be excellent things to take us forward, things like shared services, purchasing, and marketing. However, what a unitary authority may not be so good at is ensuring that local voices, opinions and preferences are properly heard. Local democracy cannot suffer; this is something we in Alvechurch should appreciate as much as anyone.