Bexhillians are being urged to back a move aimed at giving the community a greater say in its own affairs and sign a petition calling for the town to have its own Area Committee.
Earlier this week at a ceremony on the Town Hall steps, a five-strong Association of Independent Councillors (AIC) accompanied by supporters launched the petition.
Councillor Stuart Earl set out the association’s case. He said: “Rother District has 80,000 residents of whom 40,000 live in Bexhill. The remainder live in Battle, Rye and the surrounding rural area.
“The council currently governs under a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ system. The leader alone determines the size and membership of the cabinet which currently comprises nine councillors of whom only three represent Bexhill wards.
“All executive decisions affecting Bexhill are made by councillors who have no mandate from Bexhill residents, whereas Battle and Rye each have Town Councils and there are 29 Parish Councils serving the rural area.”
Cllr Earl said what this means is that Bexhill, the major economic and cultural hub of the district, comprising half the district population, has no corporate representation or voice of its own to match the representation enjoyed by residents elsewhere, adding: “This is a major democratic deficit by any standard.”
Bexhill’s Independent Councillors say they made a detailed and practical proposal to remedy this deficit which was rejected by cabinet and full council. These councillors are seeking to remedy this situation through a statutory Community Governance Review which will legally compel the council to examine present arrangements.
Cllr Earl said to instigate a review at least 3,500 Bexhill residents need to sign a petition such as the one Bexhill’s Independent Councillors have launched, adding: “In our view this is not a party political issue – it is a vital democratic Bexhill resident issue which affects us all. There is no guarantee what the outcome of a review will be but under the relevant Act, one possible outcome could be a Bexhill ‘Area Committee’. This would comprise the 18 Bexhill councillors as already elected by residents.
“As Independent councillors we favour such an outcome for its simplicity and transparency whereby Bexhill’s elected councillors would be visible and clearly accountable to residents when determining and discussing Bexhill matters.”
Cllr Earl said the details of the remit for a Bexhill Area Committee would have to be agreed but they would fight for it to include: Executive decisions on solely Bexhill matters and related budgets; Formal consultee status on planning; Formal consultee status on district, county and national initiatives, and Policy development for Bexhill.
The proposal is that the 18 councillors elected to represent Bexhill would be the ones who would make decisions that affect the town’s community, including: Take back some of the services that concern local people; Have more influence over all proposals that affect Bexhill; Have more influence over planning decisions, but not over the major plans that affect the whole district; Become direct consultees on the condition of our built environment and how that should be cared for; After close consultation with residents of Bexhill determine their own budget and priorities for improvements and maintenance; Devolution of some powers the committee would still work with all parties to deliver the best major services, such as housing, street cleaning, public health, and the De-la Warr Pavilion. Cllr Earl added: “We envisage wide public interest in such a review and resident interest and participation will have the potential to influence the outcome. The lack of any corporate representation at all for Bexhill continues to concern many residents who resent the outcome of remote decisions taken by those with no local interest in our town.
“Bexhill Independent councillors continue to fight for this and seek to work with residents to achieve a voice for them and at least a level democratic playing field. By signing the petition residents are simply saying that they want a clear say in the care and future development of our town, regardless of party political beliefs.”
A spokesman for Rother District Council declined to comment on the AIC. Attempts to contact RDC Leader Cllr Maynard for a comment have been unsuccessful.
The petition can be signed online at: http://epetition.eastsussex.public-i.tv/epetition_core/community/petition/2845. Copies available at No.48 Devonshire Road , Bexhill.