Bexhill councillor blasts ‘Tory whitewash’ over town council bid

Cllr Deirdre Earl-Williams
Cllr Deirdre Earl-Williams

A newly-elected district councillor has criticised ‘Tory whitewash’ over the bid to create a town council for Bexhill.

Deirdre Earl-Williams, new Independent councillor for Collington ward, won the seat in last Thursday’s by-election after independent councillor Tony Mansi was forced to stand down due to ill health.

She said: “I intend to fight, along with my other Independent colleagues, for self-governance for Bexhill.

“The Independents (AIC) have already filled a petition with 4,000 signatures to force the council to discuss the possibility of a town council.

“The Conservative group has already discounted this as a non-starter.

“They tell us that it is too expensive. It is not too expensive for Battle or Rye.”

In September, councillors on Rother District Council’s (RDC) cabinet committee launched a Community Governance Review (CGR) into the proposal for a town council.

Council officers recommended the CGR steering committee be established, with a public consultation to be launched in January 2017, with the aim of completing the review within 12 months.

Cllr Earl-Williams said: “Now we are told the independent chairman of the committee is to be Robin Patten, ex-Conservative councillor. How can he possibly be classified as independent? It is the usual Tory whitewash.

“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.”

Democracy4Bexhill campaign group has has written to Malcolm Johnston, lead officer for Rother District Council to complain over the decision.

A spokesman said: “Making sure the review is set up properly is key to gaining the confidence of Bexhill people in the process. If they think it’s a stitch-up from the start then they just won’t engage.”

Last month, the ruling Conservatives on the district council said they would be opposed to a town council for Bexhill.

The council’s leader, Cllr Carl Maynard, said part of the governance review will be to look at various options, such as the Bexhill Charter of Trustees, the town forum and so on.

“The town council is absolutely not the only option,” he said.

Cllr Maynard added: “The chairman will have no voting rights and is only there to chair the steering group effectively.

“The task of finding an independent chairman was delegated to a lead officer, not a councillor.

“Mr Patten brings a wealth of experience in local government. He has prior experience attending different parish council meetings for well over a decade. The parishing of Bexhill is one of the options and to have people on the steering group with experience of parish councils will be a positive thing for everyone.

“Mr Patten is also a serving Pett parish councillor so he brings to the table significant experience.”

Democracy4Bexhill is hosting a launch event at 7pm on Tuesday, November 15 St John Centre in London Road.

Anyone who has an interest in how Bexhill is run is very welcome to attend.

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