Domestic Politics Analysis Politics

Nouse interviews Labour councillors for Heworth and Micklegate

Cllr Claire Douglas and Cllr Peter Kilbane get to the heart of student issues

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: Hannah Boyle

After reaching out to the city councillors across the city, Nouse spoke to Councillor Claire Douglas and Councillor Peter Kilbane about current issues facing York. Cllr Douglas, elected to represent the Heworth ward of York, currently undertakes the role of Leader of the Labour Group at the City of York Council, while Cllr Kilbane represents Micklegate while holding the position of Deputy Leader of the Labour Group. Nouse took the opportunity to ask about the heart of student issues, and how they could best support the needs of their constituents.

The brief of every elected councillor stretches far beyond the boundaries of their own wards, as explained by Cllr Douglas. While daily she works to “represent local constituents and their concerns and help them to get problems solved”, she has a broader consideration as Leader of the Labour Group. She stated “at city wide issues as well and how we can improve York as a place to live for everybody who lives in York, so particular concerns of ours are around housing, transport, the environment, jobs and the economy.”

Similarly, Cllr Kilbane stressed that their job does not end with representing their constituents, as they remain committed to making “sure that the administration is held to account. Where we think they are wasting money, we will try and make sure that it’s in the public domain, and we’ll try and get them to not waste money where we can.”

As students move around the country frequently, many are unaware about how to contact their local representatives with queries and concerns that affect their experiences in York. When asked, Cllr Douglas, who represents significant areas of student housing, endorsed contact through phone, email and Facebook, stressing that support of local councillors is “open to everyone, all residents.” Cllr Kilbane noted that in preparation of the upcoming May 2023 local elections, parties are now formulating their plans for manifesto pledges, stressing that “we [the Labour Group] want input from everybody on that, not just Labour Party Members so students have got ideas about how they want to see the city develop, get in touch with us through online.”

Speaking from their position as opposition to the Liberal Democrat controlled council, Cllrs Douglas and Kilbane expressed concern about the lack of active engagement from central council institutions with local students, with Cllr Kilbane explaining that they feel that “Liberal Democrats dominate the council and they are not interested in the issues of students as very few students live in the ward they represent so they have very little contact with them.” Keen to set the record straight, Cllr Kilbane went on to assert that they feel “students should be at the front and centre” on issues such as housing and Homes of Multiple Occupancy (HMO), which are a popular choice for students wishing to live off-campus.

Moreover the ‘cost of living’ crisis is a significant issue for students as food, rent and energy bills increase. Acknowledging it was a particular concern for students, Cllrs Douglas and Kilbane noted that this was a particular area of policy failure from central government, stating “really it is an issue for central government, but we would love to support people if we could”, noting that “the issue is that because the people who set the laws expect people to go to the bank of mum and dad when they are skint, they do not understand that a huge number of students just are simply not in that position.”

Eager to help, both councillors advised that there are signposting services they are able to point students towards, urging them to get in touch if they need assistance in finding charitable organisations who may be able to help dependent upon eligibility.

Switching to a city wide focus, Nouse asked about night life, safety and revitalisation which were topics of interest for both Councillors. Speaking passionately, Cllr Kilbane noted his involvement in current campaigns to revitalise music venues such as Fibbers which closed three years ago, as well as campaigning previously to save other night time venues. Cllr Kilbane stated “There are very few student venues in the city centre, and we want to send a message loud and clear that students are very welcome in the city centre and very welcome in York. They are one of the life bloods, not only of the economy but of the culture.”

Simultaneously, both councillors also noted the desperate need to ensure that York was a family friendly city, with an atmosphere which is welcoming to all. Speaking of their frustration about the lack of provision to support disabled access in York, as well as a lack of engagement from the Council on the city’s ‘purple flag’ status, both councillors assured Nouse that they were aware of the challenges which face some in the city, stressing that “the way you make a place safer is by changing the atmosphere” to make it more inclusive for all.

With night-life comes concerns about safety, particularly for those travelling around the city at night. Cllr Douglas assured Nouse that it was something she was passionate about and focused on for the future, stating “I think it is also really important that everybody, but particularly women and girls, feel safe moving around and don’t feel restricted in their movements because they don’t feel safe…we need to look at public transport in so many ways, as it’s so important.”

Finally, when asked to share one key message to students across the city, Cllr Douglas said “I would like to see students really get involved in local politics and find ways they want to get involved and let us know about that. It is really important that we hear their voice, and as we have discussed already it is just not heard enough. So any kind of feedback we can get on engaging with students better and engaging with the student union better, and letting us know what they think the city needs to do to reflect the needs. Get out there and get involved.”

Similarly, Cllr Kilbane reiterated the sentiment, advising that “The city council can make the city a better place to be. If you want to make the city a better place to be, then we want to hear from you.”

Contact details for your local York councillors can be found online, here. If you are unsure of your local authority, you can use gov.uk to find your area.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on 1 June 2022.

Latest in Domestic Politics