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About Rachel Millward – Councillor for Hartfield Ward, deputy leader of council

Rachel Millward is Councillor for Hartfield ward

Rachel was elected Councillor for Hartfield ward in a by-election in December 2021. She is now leader of the Green Group at Wealden District Council, and has been Deputy Leader of Council since May 2023, when the Green-LibDem Alliance for Wealden took control. Rachel is in cabinet (the leadership team of Councillors), and is the Lead Councillor for Housing and Benefits. She has a particular interest in sewage pollution and river health, and works hard to hold our water companies to account. 

Whilst Rachel studied a Masters in politics & development in South Africa, her professional background is in cultural leadership. She founded and led a major international film festival and then led a leading music and nature organisation. Rachel is a Conservator of the Ashdown Forest and a founder member of Friends of the River Medway. She lives locally with her husband and two children. 

What are your priorities as a Councillor?

It’s a great privilege to be co-leading Wealden District Council. I’m really proud of how the whole team has articulated a vision of Wealden as a place where people and nature thrive together. It’s our collective mission as the Alliance for Wealden to make our district a greener, fairer and kinder place for current and future generations. As a mother and a nature-lover, I can’t imagine a more motivating mission! 

Here’s a bit more about specific areas of interest, and changes I’ve already been able to make:

Protecting Nature 

I feel I represent both the people of Hartfield and also the land - an extraordinarily beautiful and environmentally precious area. When knocking on doors it became immediately clear that many residents feel our countryside is under real threat from inappropriate development, so I’ve made it my top priority to advocate for communities within the planning system and ensure as much protection as possible for our National Landscape (formerly known as AONB!). 

Closely linked to this is my passion for clean rivers, given that the UK’s rivers are amongst the most polluted in Europe. We depend on our water for everything we do, and yet we know that thousands of hours of raw sewage are pumped into our streams and rivers - far beyond the legal limits. The first thing I did when I arrived at Council was propose a motion (that’s the Council equivalent of a Parliamentary Bill) to consider cumulative sewage more effectively as part of the planning process. When the sewage system is already under strain, it’s got to be vital to ensure the infrastructure can cope with more before adding new housing developments onto the system. In a historic move, this motion was adopted as a cross-party motion and became the first unanimously supported motion in memory. It has led to further progress and refinement of the way we deal with “the sewage problem” when it comes to new developments. 

Change within the Council processes is vital, but so is grassroots action. I’m part of a citizen science project (Ripple Effect) with Friends of the River Medway and the University of Sussex, testing the river water for pollution levels, identifying what lives in the river, and exploring how being in regular contact with the river changes the way we think and feel about it. 

Serving Communities

As well as my deep passion and concern for nature and conservation, I have always been motivated by a desire for greater social justice. Now I am Lead Councillor for Housing and Benefits, I’m able to ensure that the Council’s policies are the kindest they can be for those who need housing support. It’s eye-opening seeing how severe the housing crisis is, and the string of government policies over the years which make it far too difficult for many ordinary people to afford a decent home. I can’t change that as a Councillor, but there are ways we have been able to help - like changing policies to ensure that more people who need support can get on the Housing Register, and that our social housing tenants have greater security and less bureaucratic stress to deal with. 

Above all, I want to help bring about a culture-shift at Council so that we are open, honest and transparent, and learn to listen better to our communities. It’s very clear to me that we are not able to deliver everything that we or our communities want and need, because of the rules set by central Government. And that’s why I’ve decided to stand as a Parliamentary Candidate, so that if I’m elected I can advocate for the needs of this community in Westminster.