Q&A with Cllr Vicki Wells, Cabinet Member for the Environment at Worthing Borough Council
Released: Tuesday, 05 July 2022
Improving Worthing's parks, recreation grounds and coastline is top of the list of priorities of Cllr Vicki Wells, the new Cabinet Member for the Environment.
People power is part of her vision for this, with greater links between the borough's Friends Of parks groups and our rangers to make our green spaces work better for residents - and Cllr Wells isn't afraid to get her hands dirty helping as well.
Q. You have now been in the cabinet for a month. What are the first things you've noticed about the role? Has anything surprised you?
The first thing I've noticed is how fantastic the Council officers are - these are the people who make the machine work. I am inspired by their readiness to work so closely with us as the new administration - they have welcomed our 'hands on' approach as a refreshing change and one that is long overdue.
Q. What have you been doing so far?
I've had a full timetable of meetings with the directors and senior officers inside the town hall. These meetings are vital to understand the current status of all aspects of the portfolio and to discuss our ambitions to improve tree planting, energise recycling and harness the incredible potential of our parks and foreshore.
Outside of the town hall I've inspected the town's worst offending WCs(!), and continue to meet with the Friends Of parks groups, local businesses and fishermen - who are all keen to help to inject some much-needed civic pride in our fantastic town. I've been working with a brilliant group of volunteer Citizen Scientists who are gathering data for Defra, in an effort to gain bathing water designation at a section of beach in East Worthing.
Q. What attracted you to the environment portfolio?
I am passionate about the environment and this portfolio is multifaceted and wide ranging. It is an enormous privilege to work with the community to help make Worthing greener and fairer in so many different ways. My responsibilities include everything from play equipment, public WCs, dog poo bins, water and air quality and bereavement services to name some.
Q. We've seen you out early in the morning helping keep our beaches clean and accessible. What is it about the coastline that you like the most?
I grew up locally and have a genetic attachment to the sea and Downs. The 4:30am Solstice shingle shovel with the excellent GoodGym folk aimed to help people more easily enjoy our seafront - so I am always ready to get stuck in. The wider benefits to the ecology of our coastal waters and our local economy via environmental safeguarding and sustainable fishing are huge, so I am passionate to do all we can to support our blue environment. The recent trawler ban has already seen an increase in fish stocks and the return of kelp. In addition to Worthing's new Seaside Award, the potential for Blue Flag status is very real, but we have to work hard to obtain excellent water quality.
Q. You've also been vocal in demanding more action from Southern Water to improve the quality of our seawater. What do you what to happen?
I want to see more action from Southern Water. A priority for me as soon as I arrived was to reinstate meetings with them, something that hasn't happened for a whole year. We've had our first meeting already and there are quarterly dates in our diaries to discuss the ongoing issues impacting our local water quality; misconnected plumbing - where the foul waste from loos goes straight into surface water drainage, regular updates on combined sewer overflows and water monitoring and how we work with other partners like the Environment Agency to do everything we can to reduce pollution and improve our coastal water quality.
Straight off the bat, if Southern Water's infrastructure can't cope with the increase in deluges, I urge them to invest in sustainable drainage provision across Worthing to help absorb as much surface rainwater as possible.
Q. Refuse and recycling collection is a major issue in Worthing, in particular following this year's bin strikes. Are you happy with the service as it is or do you want to change it?
There is always room to improve in any field, and refuse and recycling is no exception. Worthing is currently ranked 222 out of 341 local authorities nationwide for recycling. Collectively we must be putting less in our 'landfill bins' and increasing our recycling rate as a matter of borough pride! We must think creatively to improve these services and need to consider everything from underground or solar panelled bins, community composting in local parks and dedicated recycling schemes in schools, in addition to much-needed domestic food waste collection in greener vehicles. One thing that is very clear to me is the dedication and passion of the waste teams to deliver for Worthing, which is appreciated greatly.
Q. Worthing is a very urban borough, so our green spaces are prized by residents. What is your vision for our parks and recreation grounds?
Post-Covid and in the full glare of the climate emergency, the role of our green spaces is more vital than ever. On an environmental level we need planting that caters for many things including water absorption and enhanced biodiversity as the norm. On a human level, they need to support the health and wellbeing of ALL generations with well maintained and considered facilities, from seating to play equipment, providing the possibility for community orchards or gardens and community composting facilities. We should be aiming high for more of our parks to obtain Green Flag status too - this means people power - dedicated, active Friends Of parks groups working with our rangers to nurture and protect historic gems like Denton Gardens. Our green spaces need more direct government funding to fully achieve these goals. Like other local authorities, the challenge is the lack of central funding, soaring inflation and energy costs.
Q. Let's look a year ahead. What will you have managed to get done so far?
Refurbished, accessible public toilets; investment by Southern Water into sustainable drainage systems; bathing water designation at East Worthing with the Environment Agency regularly testing water quality and an application in progress for the Sea Lane area. Improved recycling rates, domestic food waste collections and thriving parks with lots more community engagement. There is no time to waste!
Cllr Vicki Wells
Page last updated: 25 November 2022