Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: James Walsh – Labour Candidate in the Stoke By-election

Published on: 18 Apr, 2016
Updated on: 18 Apr, 2016

James Walsh is the Labour candidate in the Guildford Borough Council by-election, to be held in Stoke ward on Thursday May 5th, following the resignation of William Chesterfield.

The by-election is a three-way contest between the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour. Each of the three candidates have been posed the same set of questions. We are publishing interviews with all three candidates.

James Walsh the Labour candidate in the Stoke by-election on May...

James Walsh the Labour candidate in the Stoke by-election on May 5th.

How long have you been a member of your party, what motivated you to join and why did you decide to stand at this by-election?

I have been a member of the Labour Party for 20 years and I joined for several reasons. I grew up at a time when homelessness was rife on our streets and the news was full of images of the Ethiopian famine and I remember thinking that this wasn’t right and that I wanted to do something to help. My grandad was a Labour councillor in Runnymede for 30 years and my great–grandad was an Irish Socialist, so I took a lot of inspiration from them and the work they did to help people in their communities through politics.

What skills and experience would you be able to offer as a borough councillor?

I was an elected councillor in Slough for six years and have a wide range of experience of representing and working for residents – and getting results – in a similar role. I am an effective communicator and will keep in touch with residents all year round and not just when there’s an election on, and can work with people from all backgrounds to achieve results for people living in Stoke ward and Guildford as a whole.

Do you live in Stoke ward? If elected, what are the main problems within the ward that  you would want to address?

I live off the Stoke Road near the town centre. As with other councillors past and present, including the great Bill Bellerby who did a superb job representing Stoke for many years, there is no relationship between the effectiveness and commitment of a councillor and where he or she lives. They all represent Guildford. Issues I would like to tackle in Stoke include the parking problems residents are experiencing on the Slyfield Estate, the poor condition of the roads in Bellfields and making sure residents’ concerns and suggestions about SARP [Slyfield Area Regeneration Plan] are heard at every stage of the development.

Do you agree that giving up 1.6% of the green belt around Guildford for housing, as proposed in the revised Local Plan, is the right thing to do?

labour-party-logo-441x330We must manage the green belt very carefully and strike a balance between the need for housing and preserving our beautiful countryside. There are  areas that are designated green belt that could be used to provide affordable, well-designed homes without impacting vast swathes of the countryside, but this has to be managed in the context of existing brownfield sites, landbanking and the overall impact such development would have on the surrounding area.

Do you think that the target housing number given in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment of 693 per annum is desirable and achievable and do you agree with those that say Guildford needs to grow or it will die?

I’m not sure who came up with the 693 figure, but we certainly need more housing – and more affordable housing above all. Guildford is a vibrant town and borough and I do not agree that it will “die” if it doesn’t grow. However, I am concerned about families being split up because children cannot afford to rent or buy in the area. A Stoke family, I met recently, has a son who lives on the south coast because he cannot afford to live near home. That is unacceptable and the council needs to do more to promote affordable housing.

Guildford is an affluent town but with some areas of deprivation. What more should and can be done to help those who are less well off?

I would like to see a living wage introduced across Surrey, so that no-one is forced to work for less than £8.25 per hour – and there is probably a strong case for introducing the higher London rate because of the high-cost of living here. I will push for Guildford Council to play its part in this and honour its commitment to pay its employees the Living Wage as a minimum.

What are the good things about Guildford, and about living here, that should be encouraged and maintaned?

Guildford has a wealth of excellent facilities and a strong history that could be better presented to residents and visitors alike. A good example is the riverside – I think a lot could be done to make more of that area while maintaining its history and character. That means being a bit more imaginative than throwing a few boutiques and bars down there. Other good things: the lido, the castle, the museum, the country walks…

Are you sure that you have the time to give to be an effective ward councillor? What work commitments do you have?

Yes. I was a councillor for a unitary authority for six years and a member of the Cabinet with responsibility for health and adult social services, while holding down a full-time job in London. I currently work for the NHS in London. Being an effective councillor depends on much the same as everything else you need to do to succeed in life – being able to manage your time and put in the hours required.

Are you a Guildford Dragon NEWS reader?

Of course! As a former journalist, I applaud the work The Dragon does and believe that it plays an important role as an online hub for everyone who lives in Guildford to be able to communicate and stay informed about everything going on in our great town and borough.

See also our interviews with: Barry Keane – Conservative candidate and Hannah Thompson – Lib Dem candidate in the Stoke By-election.

Share This Post

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *