The chairman overseeing a major review of how Bexhill is governed ‘will ensure a fair debate’ despite the controversy surrounding his appointment.
Ex Conservative councillor Robin Patten’s selection as the independent chairman of the community governance review steering group was dubbed a ‘Tory whitewash’.
Rother District Council’s (RDC) executive director of resources Malcolm Johnston said Mr Patten has ‘vast experience’ and will make sure all sides of the debate are heard.
“The steering group has no decision making powers and its role will be to draw up proposals which will be considered at open meetings of other council committees,” he said.
“Robin has vast experience in local government and will ensure meetings are chaired in a way that is fair and at which all sides of the debate receive a proper hearing.”
The review was prompted by a petition led by independent councillors and residents garnering almost 4,000 signatures, with the hope of introducing a Bexhill Town Council in the model of Rye and Battle.
From the campaign, a steering group was agreed by RDC in September and set up comprised of seven current councillors and chaired by Mr Patten, former representative for Marsham ward until the 2015 election.
Newly-elected Collington councillor Deirdre Earl-Williams blasted the decision to appoint Mr Patten as a conspiracy by the Conservatives to quash any hope of a town council, who openly oppose the concept.
“How can he possibly be classified as independent? It is the usual Tory whitewash,” she said after her by-election victory on October 27.
“The only way to be sure the residents of Bexhill will have a choice is to have a referendum on whatever solution they come up with, otherwise we will be back where we started, with an awful lot of time and money spent and still no real voice for Bexhill.
“The government has cut funding severely to RDC and my sympathy goes out to our officers who have to try and make the money go round.”
Residents are being urged to register their interest ahead of the review’s consultation, which will begin on January 9.
Options to be considered for the nine Rother District Council wards could include an area committee of the council to deal with town affairs, new town or parish councils, as well as the role played by existing institutions.
People can submit their details online to get information on how to take part in the consultation and updates on the review’s progress.
Deputy leader and Bexhill affairs cabinet member Martin Kenward said: “This is a topic which has raised strong feelings but it’s important all the issues are carefully considered before any decision is made.
“We need to ensure that any new arrangements which may be introduced are effective, provide value for money for the taxpayer and represent the identity and the interests of people in Bexhill. Residents have a very important part to play in this process and by registering their interest now, people can ensure their voice is heard.”
Following the initial consultation, draft recommendations will be published before people again have their say, with a final decision due by the full council in December 2017.
People can register their interest at www.rother.gov.uk/CommunityGovernanceReview.
How do you think Bexhill should be governed? Should we have a town council, an area committee, something else, or should it stay as it is?
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