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Which Labour candidate for South Yorkshire Mayor is the greenest?

Ben Davies from the campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal assesses the four candidates on their environmental credentials, ahead of the party’s candidate selection deadline.

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Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.

The climate crisis looms large over the Labour Party’s selection of its candidate for Mayor of South Yorkshire.

Each of the four prospective candidates promise action on the climate emergency. The urgent challenges we face require big thinking and bold solutions. In that light, it’s worth noting that the language of ‘Green Industrial Revolutions’, ‘Green New Deals’ and, in Oliver Coppard’s case, a ‘New Deal’ for South Yorkshire has been readily deployed by each candidate. With a few days left in the selection race, at Labour for a Green New Deal we have been weighing up each candidates’ green policies.

Fixing South Yorkshire’s broken public transport system is arguably the most pressing issue facing the eventual winner, especially following current Mayor Dan Jarvis’ failure to bring the region's buses and trams back into public control and with private companies hiking up ticket prices. Building a system that puts people before profit is crucial to any Green New Deal for South Yorkshire. Increasing capacity and encouraging more people to use low-carbon public transport would be enormously beneficial, massively reducing car emissions and connecting communities who have been neglected during decades of privatisation.

Each candidate has pledged to bring South Yorkshire’s buses and trams back into public control, a positive consensus that recognises that giving power to the private sector is at the root of the decline. But on closer inspection, the candidates’ plans differ considerably.

Oliver Coppard has pledged to deliver a London-style franchise system and argued explicitly against public ownership. He hasn’t committed to a meaningful time-frame for this and has promised nothing for trams. Likewise, Jayne Dunn claims to support public ownership of transport, but by pledging to “keep every option on the table” she risks unsatisfactory solutions which fail to chart a course away from the status quo.

Rachael Blake has put forward more positive proposals than Coppard and Dunn, pledging to strengthen the SYMCA, “with us setting the timetable and the system we want and the bus companies providing the service our communities need – not the profit the privatised companies want.”

Lewis Dagnall’s concrete commitment to immediately begin the process of bus franchising, to be concluded by the end of his first year in the role, speaks to the urgency of the situation. Dagnall has pledged to appoint a publicly-owned bus company to take up this franchise and says he would also bring Supertram back into public hands in 2024, finally integrating buses and trams. He also committed to replacing bus stock with a zero-carbon fleet, expanding the number of routes, and ensuring new housing and business developments make provision for public transport access.

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All four candidates have indicated they want to bring buses back under public control, but policies about the Supertram network differ.

Harrison Qi on Unsplash.

Beyond public transport, each candidate has put forward their own plans for decarbonisation, but again there is some disparity when it comes to urgency.

Jayne Dunn uses the language of a ‘Green New Deal’, but her ambition appears limited. Aiming for net-zero by 2040 is not good enough and she provides little detail of how to achieve it.

Oliver Coppard has pledged to plant 1.4 million trees and convene citizens’ assemblies to create a plan for net-zero. Citizens’ assemblies may play a role in the climate transition, but we would expect Coppard to be putting forward more of his own ideas at this stage of the contest.

More positively, Rachael Blake has committed to a just transition, acknowledging that decarbonisation must leave no-one behind, ensuring jobs for all. Her pledge to support community energy generation is also to her credit, pointing towards the need to transform our energy system.

When it comes to decarbonisation plans, in our view Dagnall’s manifesto is again the most compelling. In recognising the damage caused by decades of industrial decline, Dagnall proposes community wealth-building (and to his credit, Coppard does also), which has led to success in Preston and Salford, a Green New Deal bond and co-operative green finance. His plan for progressive public procurement favouring local suppliers would ensure that wealth created locally enriches the region. His nature restoration policies – including woodland and peatland restoration and regeneration, a land commission, the creation of urban green spaces and sustainable drainage systems – are all ambitious and show a holistic view of the problems.

On education, all the candidates have made commitments to deliver life-long education, a crucial element of any just transition. Once again, Labour for a Green New Deal believe Dagnall offers the most joined-up strategy, partnering with employers, trade unions and education providers to deliver “adult learning and retraining, a model for a transition that ensures green jobs aren’t just in high-tech industries, but also for indispensable care workers and those in underpaid and under-recognised sectors.

Overall, while all four candidates put climate at the heart of their platforms, for us Coppard and Dunn trail behind Blake and Dagnall. Labour for a Green New Deal’s assessment is that Lewis Dagnall is only one Labour candidate for South Yorkshire Mayor putting forward the bold policies required to tackle our climate and economic crises.

Ben Davies is a campaigner with Labour for a Green New Deal.

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