Green mayoral candidate talks police reform, cost of living, LTNs and the climate emergency

Zoe Garbett, Green Party Candidate for Mayor Of Hackney

Zoe Garbett, Green Party Candidate for Mayor Of Hackney - Credit: Hackney Greens

Green mayoral hopeful Zoe Garbett is horrified by what happened to Child Q – the Black teenager strip searched at school after teachers called in police because they thought she smelt of cannabis.

Garbett said: “It should never have happened, it can never be justified.”

The Child Q scandal broke after it emerged the 15-year-old was searched, without an appropriate adult present.

Garbett wants to see disciplinary action taken against the teachers and the resignation or dismissal of the police officers and Hackney’s borough commander and wants “deep reform” of the police.

She said what happened to Child Q shows that “suspected cannabis possession is too often used as an excuse by police in Hackney and elsewhere to target young Black people”.

Speaking before the Child Q scandal broke, she criticised drugs policies which “criminalise young people”.

She helped draw up the Green party’s drugs policy, which calls for an to end stop and search for suspected drug possession and for the police to stop prioritising cannabis.

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Garbett said Hackney is already facing tough times in the post-Covid-restrictions world, in which climate change, economic recovery and tackling inequalities are all urgent.

She currently works for the NHS, looking at how it should spend its budget, and has spent more than 10 years working in public health, adult social care and children and young people’s health services.

The Greens narrowly missed out on gaining one seat on the council in 2018 when they were pipped to the post in Dalston ward, with Labour beating them by 21 votes – the party is hoping to build on that result.

Whoever becomes mayor faces a borough changed by the pandemic, which Garbett says has “laid bare inequalities”.

The council is predicting a budget gap in 2023/24 of between £14m and £28m depending on government funding.

Meanwhile, the number of residents on Universal Credit soared from 13,700 in March 2020 to 35,000 in September 2021 – with two fifths of them struggling despite being in work.

“The cost of living crisis would be a huge priority for me as mayor,” said Garbett.

She would exempt the worst-off from paying council tax and reduce the rent increase for people living in council homes.

She has been involved in the Save Morning Lane and Ridley Road campaigns, which are concerned that people will be priced out of the area.

The Save Ridley Road banner hanging from the Ridley Road Shopping Village.

The Save Ridley Road banner hanging from the Ridley Road Shopping Village. - Credit: Archant

“The gentrification in Hackney is visible and alarming,” she said. “It’s breaking up communities.”

She fears that the council is at risk of being “at the mercy of developers” to meet affordable housing targets in the borough.

“We need to be much braver in saying no to developers,” she added.

The introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTN) in Hackney has been controversial.

They are designed to cut the use of motor vehicles and improve air quality, but opponents say they have moved the problem to roads just outside the boundaries of the LTNs.

Whilst Garbett pledged to add more LTNs “ in suitable areas”, with monitoring to spot negative impacts nearby, she said “people did not feel consulted and did not feel listened to”.

The council ran LTNs as experimental schemes and asked residents what they thought before making some of them permanent.

Garbett said that motor traffic has to reduce by at least 27 per cent to reach London’s net zero carbon target by 2030.

She wants to make every street in Hackney greener and bring in 20 mile per hour speed limits.

She said: “Recent measures taken by the council have cut traffic on some streets while doing little or nothing to improve conditions for others.”

Though Garbett recognises some car and van journeys will "always remain essential". 

If elected, she said she wanted to listen to residents with a citizens’ assembly to give them more power in decision-making.

“One of my top priorities is to really put the power back to the people.”

She said it’s essential to collaborate with residents to find solutions.

Garbett wants to hold a young people’s question time event and allow the Hackney Youth Parliament to put forward budget amendments, as opposition councillors do.

Hackney Council is currently aiming to be net zero by 2040 – ten years ahead of the government’s target.