Rother council leaders have been warned they risk legal challenge should councillors opt to set up a town council for Bexhill without carrying out a fresh Community Governance Review (CGR).
The warning came at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday (July 29), as councillors discussed a report on what steps would be needed to form a town council.
According to the report, which had been requested in a full council motion, government legislation requires the council to go through a CGR process before any town council could be established.
Cabinet members, however, felt differently, amending the officers’ recommendation to move ahead with a ‘community consultation’, rather than a CGR.
The amendment was put forward by Labour councillor and cabinet member for Bexhill affairs Christine Bayliss, who said: “The only reason we have decided not to call the consultation a Community Governance Review, is that we have already had a Community Governance Review.
“We don’t feel we have the need to redo a Community Governance Review, but obviously we want to conduct a community consultation to decide; the electoral arrangements for a proposed town council, the number of councillors, the setting-up costs [and] the services that the community would want the town council to deliver.”
This argument, however, saw concerns raised by the council’s executive director Malcolm Johnston.
Mr Johnston said: “I must be very clear; the method of establishing a town council is to carry out a Community Governance Review. The council must pass a motion saying that is what it is doing.
“If it doesn’t pass that motion you have no right or ability to actually change the community governance within the area.
“Consultation is a key part of that CGR and it is built into that. But if you call it something else, I would have to go away and take legal advice on whether that is doing something which may actually mean we can’t move forward.”
Mr Johnston added that the council had received ‘very clear legal advice’ saying a CGR would be necessary for the council to issue a Community Governance Order, which is the legal process in which a town council would be set up.
By not carrying out a CGR the council would leave the establishment of a town council open to a legal challenge, he said.
But he also said the CGR process could be significantly speedier than its predecessor, which began in September 2016 and concluded in December 2017.
Cllr Bayliss, however, said she had taken advice from the The Surrey and Sussex Associations of Local Councils (SSALC) saying a new CGR would be unnecessary.
She said: “There are members of the public who see this as going over old ground, that we have been through very recently.
“They do not want to go through what we went through less than two years ago and that is the reason we have proposed what we have proposed.
“If the legal advice can be sought before the next full council meeting, then that is fine.”
Despite Mr Jonnston’s concerns, cabinet members opted to back the amendment put forward by Cllr Bayliss.
A final decision is to be made at a full council meeting in September.