Q&A: Mayor of Stevenage Michael Downing
PUBLISHED: 15:02 13 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:40 20 February 2013
Mayor of Stevenage, Michael Downing, tells Louise McEvoy about his particular passion and what makes him humble
Tell the reader a bit about yourself.
I grew up in London and came to Stevenage in 1968 for a job at the College of Further Education, expecting to stay for about two or three years, but the job lasted 30 years. My wife and I have lived in the Old Town for 33 years. Our five children have long departed, but two live quite close and two of our six grandchildren live in Stevenage.
When did you first become interested in local government, and why did you decide to become actively involved?
I have always been interested in politics, and my job as a lecturer in social policy was always concerned with current political issues and how bodies like councils try to deal with them, so I thought I should move from being a critic on the sidelines to active involvement.
How long have you been a member of Stevenage Borough Council, and what do you most enjoy about your role?
I have been on the council since 1984, and was also an Old Town county councillor for eight years. I have always particularly liked planning because it throws up so many challenging issues, and you see the results of your decisions fairly quickly.
What frustrates you most about being a councillor?
I am most frustrated by general apathy, except where decisions have an immediate personal impact, but I understand and sympathise with the reasons for this.
Do you have a particular passion or interest within local government?
Health policy and, in particular, trying to raise awareness of the need to move away from preoccupation with hospitals and towards developing policy that deals with the causes of ill health have been my dominant interest. This is where local authorities have as much to contribute as hospitals and doctors.
Why did you decide to take up the role as mayor of Stevenage?
I thought becoming mayor would be a good way to round-off my career on the council.
What has been your best experience as mayor to date?
I thought I knew most of what happened in Stevenage, but I continue to be amazed at the level of community activity by so many people. The best thing about being mayor is to be able to share this and meet the unacknowledged achievers in the town, and it is humbling that people are always so pleased to see you.
If you could only achieve one more thing while on the council, what would it be and why?
Looking back, I realise how lucky we were in coming to a town where anyone working here was entitled to a house. I would love to see a return to the position where the council was able to provide this. Alas it is most unlikely.
Where is the best place in Hertfordshire to spend a day, and why?
St Albans has so many places to keep anyone occupied for a day, and there is always something new to discover. On a fine day, Stevenages Fairlands Valley Park and its surrounding woods take some beating.
Where is the best view in Hertfordshire to be had?
The first campaign I got involved in, over 40 years ago in Stevenage, in a very minor capacity, was to stop a major road going down the length of Fairlands Valley. It was a rare success against such developments then, and that is partly why I rate it Hertfordshires best view.