Election17: Sweeping Changes – James Mackessack-Leitch, Heldon & Laich

All individual candidates or political groups contesting the forthcoming local council elections in Moray are invited to state their case through the pages of our community news site – contact for submissions is editor@insidemoray.news. Here we have views of James Mackessack-Leitch, Greens candidate for Heldon & Laich.

WHATEVER HAPPENS IN a few days time, sweeping changes are coming to Moray Council. It’s time for new faces, new voices, and new ideas.

In a rapidly changing country we need a stable and effective local council that reflects the values and beliefs of the community and acts in their best interest – and councillors who are focussed on local issues, not distracted by national debates.

My overarching aim if elected is to push for a transformation in thinking about how the Council goes about its daily business, with a particular focus on planning for the long term future.

In many respects the current issues with the School Estate highlight exactly what I’m talking about. It’s clear that for years, if not decades, no one has been doing any long term planning or joining the dots – and one of the biggest elephants in the room is housing provision.

Changing the way we plan, in particular how and where we build housing, can have drastic impacts. While our larger settlements have seen developments spring up like mushrooms, and our urban schools are full to bursting, some of our rural schools are fighting to stay open.

Building a few more houses, properly and sensitively, in rural areas where communities are fragile could ensure not just the future of the primary school, but also the shop, pub, village amenities – and keep the bus route viable.

At the same time we can reduce the stress on, and competition for, resources in our towns; retain the strong community spirit in our larger villages where expansion is opposed – and we can begin to decentralise Council Services.

This in turn feeds into building a sustainable local economy, not by pandering to big developers or throwing public money away on ill-conceived projects and short term solutions, but by fully engaging and empowering our communities, local businesses, and third sector organisations who could play a much bigger role given the right support and opportunities.

There are big challenges, and opportunities, coming down the road that the Council needs to show leadership on. The route of the new A96 is likely to be decided in the next few years and it could be a blessing or a curse. The Council can no longer afford to sit back and “wait and see”. We need to get stuck in to make sure we get the best results for Moray – proper bypasses where necessary, a sensible route and accesses, and provision of long distance walking and cycle paths.

Similarly, we need Councillors to stand up for Moray against proposed Ship-to-Ship Oil transfers. It’s a proposal that brings no benefits whatsoever to Moray, only the potential for catastrophe. I’m genuinely surprised and saddened that I’m the only candidate in the Heldon & Laich ward clearly opposed to these plans.

I know it’s not within the Council’s power grant or deny the licence, but we really need to be taking a strong line and standing up for our coastal communities, fishermen, tourism sector, and environment – people on the doorstep aren’t pretending that this is a non-issue, and neither am I.

While we haven’t yet had a local Green Councillor, “Green” policies are already in place and proving their worth. Recycling, once scorned by many, is now saving the Council millions of pounds a year proving there’s no conflict in being good for the environment and good for the budget.

Other policies like our Community Right of Appeal in the planning process, or expansion of participatory budgeting, or introducing 20mph limits in residential areas, or fighting and reversing centralisation, are all proving popular on the doorsteps.

In order to make these and other vital changes, the Council needs the power to act decisively, to be genuinely responsible, and accountable to us – not national targets and whims.

Which is why I’ll also keep fighting centralisation, and encourage devolution of powers. In particular I’m keen to see the full return of Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates to local control, and accountability. But there’s so much more potential – devolution of the Crown Estate could be transformational for Moray – so I’ll keep my eye firmly on returning real power and decision-making to our communities in Heldon and Laich, and across Moray.

The ongoing budget and service issues, and a lack of leadership and long term planning at Moray Council mean that the need for a strong, clear, but constructive voice, is more important than ever.

I know I can be that voice, bringing the fresh perspective and ideas that our Council so badly needs.

I also know that I don’t have all the answers, so I’m also keen to work collaboratively, not just within the Council, but with individuals and groups across the area, to ensure that together we are all planning for our long term prosperity.

Also contesting the Heldon & Laich ward: James Allan (Scottish Conservative and Unionist), John Cowe (Independent), Ryan Edwards (Independent), John Mitchell (Scottish Lib Dem), Amy Patience (SNP) and Dennis Slater (Independent).