Former MP plots comeback as a Durham county councillor
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
A FORMER dale MP is planning a political comeback – this time as county councillor.
Helen Goodman, who served as MP from 2005 until 2019, has been nominated to stand for the Labour Party in the West Auckland ward at the next local authority elections.
Voters are due to go to the polls on May 6.
Topping her list of priority issues are climate change, job creation, planning and social care.
She said: “When I was first elected to parliament, you are interested in all sorts of things and what I discovered was quite a lot of things I was interested in weren’t the responsibility of parliament – they were the responsibility of councils.
“So, this is one of the reasons I wanted to get involved at this level.”
One of the areas of particular interest is planning for new housing developments, which she believes needs a complete rethink.
Mrs Goodman said: “We have a need for new housing, we build new estates on the outside of our towns and villages, but we allow the middle of our towns and villages to crumble.
“We need an approach that doesn’t allow the middle of places to crumble and all the investment be on the outskirts.
“We need to address this in order not to spoil places because you are losing more green fields but also the centre isn’t as nice as it should be. You need to have a planning policy to deal with that.”
Another area of interest is renewable energy and, as a fellow of Durham University’s Energy Institute, she has some insight into the issue.
In particular she believes that geothermal technology holds possibilities for new and existing housing estates. Warm water can be accessed from the Butterknowle fault or from abandoned mines to heat homes, she said.
The former parliamentarian added: “That would be really good because it would be carbon free, it would be local and you have got new jobs.
“The council can have a role in making things like that happen.
“A thing the council has been quite successful at has been job creation – it was the council that did all the preparation to get the Hitachi factory located in Newton Aycliffe.
“So, my feeling is that as we embark on this net zero [carbon emission] plan, what we should be doing is creating more diverse jobs. Then you are doing two things at once.”
Future planning, she said, should also take account of the need for electric charging points – a problem she has personal experience of.
She said: “You can’t get people to transition to electric vehicles without proper infrastructure of charging points.
“I used to have an electric car but I gave up because there just aren’t enough charging points. I became stuck twice. I had to get the van out – it was dreadful.
“What we should have is a requirement on all these new estates that they are built with charging points. We should have the infrastructure put in at the beginning because that is so much cheaper than trying to re-engineer the whole thing after it is all built.”
Mrs Goodman’s other concern is social care which she describes as “a bit of a scandal” and in need of radical change. Of concern is the accountability of private companies which operate care facilities.
She said: “Some of these big chains that operate homes across the county are big tax avoiders – they will locate themselves on the Isle of Man or some other place. The profits that they make they will syphon off and avoid tax and not contribute back into our kitty, which we need to provide public services.
“The other thing about it is if there is a problem and they go bust. Of course the Government has to step in because you can’t not have people cared for – so it is not even as though they are bearing the risk.
“So, to tackle that you either need to regulate them more strongly or set it up in another way. That needs quite a big radical rethink.”
Along with the work she has been doing with the university’s Energy Institute, since leaving parliament Mrs Goodman has been working with the Church Action on Poverty charity, and has since been elected to its management committee.
As for her spare time during the Covid-19 restrictions, she said: “My cooking has improved, I’ve read lots of books, I can identify more birds – I was even given a pair of binoculars for Christmas.”
A final thought from Mrs Goodman is that if she is elected to represent West Auckland she will support efforts to promotethe Darlington and Stockton Railway Line as a walking and cycling route.
She concluded: “I am very keen to support the work that is going on. That is a real opportunity for the villages [along the route].”