Process to create a Bexhill town council has to start at square one

Supporters of the creation of a Bexhill town council before a crunch meeting in December 2017
Supporters of the creation of a Bexhill town council before a crunch meeting in December 2017

Plans to bring a town council to Bexhill are to be discussed by Rother council leaders next week. 

On Monday (July 29), Rother District Council’s cabinet is set to discuss a report laying out the steps needed to establish a new town council – a process which officers say will require the council to hold a fresh Community Governance Review (CGR).

The report follows on from a notice of motion brought by council leader Doug Oliver at a meeting held on May 22, which was the first meeting following the local council elections. 

The motion read: “In the light of the outcome of the local election results and the overwhelming support for candidates that support a town council for Bexhill-on-Sea, this council requests officers to report as to the required procedures with a view to the establishment of a town council for Bexhill by 2021.”

According to the report, government legislation requires the council to go through a CGR process, which includes a public consultation, before any town council could be established.

The process, however, is likely to be a source of frustration for town council campaigners given the results of the previous CGR process. 

The previous CGR began in 2016, eventually looking at four potential options during an eight-week public consultation, which ran between September and October 2017.  

These four options were: making no change; forming an area committee of Rother councillors; setting up several parish councils; or setting up a single parish council to be styled as a town council.

This final option proved to be the overwhelming favourite, with 93.5 per cent of the 9,227 residents who responded giving it their backing.

Despite this, in December 2017 the previous council instead opted to make no change (an option backed by just four per cent of respondents) citing a low level of response to the consultation.

The decision proved to be controversial, with election promises to reverse it being made by many of the candidates now sitting as councillors.

These election promises culminated in Cllr Oliver’s motion at the May full council meeting. 

Council officers, however, have warned that the process could prove to be complicated and costly one.

This process would require a ‘politically-balanced’ steering group to consider the options on offer and for the council to hold a meaningful public consultation before any decision is made. To be meaningful the final recommendations would have to reflect the views put forward by respondents to this consultation, the report says. 

In the report, the council’s executive director Malcolm Johnston said: “The work involved and the potential cost of conducting a CGR is significant and should not be underestimated.

“The review will involve a number of teams within the authority, including programme office and policy (in terms of public consultation and project management), communications (consultation strategy), legal and finance and welfare.”

Mr Johnston adds that the likely costs will not be known until further details are agreed by the steering group.

The report goes on to recommend cabinet members give their backing to: the adoption of a draft terms of reference for a CGR; the formation of the politically-balanced steering group to oversee it; and a draft timetable for the next steps.

If (as is thought likely) these recommendations are backed by cabinet members, they will go through to a full council vote in September.

If the recommendations are backed at this full council vote, a steering group will be appointed to move ahead with the proposals during October and November.

A public consultation would then be held early next year, with the council required to consider these responses when drawing up its final proposals.

The final proposals are expected to be presented to the council in May 2020.