In what has been hailed as an ‘historic success’ for the Democracy4Bexhill movement, on Monday September 21st, Rother District Council passed overwhelmingly a proposal to create a new Bexhill Town Council.
This follows years of campaigning and a final endorsement of the idea of the town having its own democratically elected body, by the Community Governance Review steering group, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Cabinet at Rother, not to mention a petition, two community governance reviews and an election!
Democracy4Bexhill, known as D4B, is a voluntary campaign group that was set up in 2015 to improve governance in Bexhill, a seaside town in East Sussex and home to the iconic 1930s De La Warr Pavilion (pictured). Building on the enormous efforts of previous citizens and councillors, who raised a petition in the town and thus triggered an official Community Governance Review, it has run two further campaigns:
First, D4B spread the word about why a town council is a good idea, and encouraged residents to make their views known in a consultation held by Rother in 2017. With the support of huge numbers of Bexhill residents, posters, stalls, press releases, meetings and social media, D4B promoted the Community Governance Review . A massive and unprecedented 9, 227 people responded, 93.5% of whom supported a town council. Only 3.9 % wanted no change.
However, in an historic and shocking decision, Rother refused to accept this and decided to make no change, which meant no town council for Bexhill.
Undaunted, D4B then launched a campaign to elect better Rother District Councillors for Bexhill and encouraged Bexhill residents to stand as councillors. In the May 2019 election, the new councillors swept the board, and now Bexhill is represented by a new Rother Alliance of parties in a new spirit of open-ness and positive mindedness, and the Leader of Rother is the former Chair of D4B! The Alliance endorsed the creation of a town council.
D4B is independent even from Rother District Council. It does not have any party political allegiance, and welcomes members and supporters from all parties and none. The committee meets regularly and is happy to receive ideas, donations and suggestions! Contact email@example.com
For years, Bexhill residents have campaigned for more of a voice in decisions affecting their town. Everyone else living within Rother has a parish or town council including the other significant town, Rye, at the other eastern end of the Rother area. But Bexhill didn’t.
Bexhill used to have its own council. It was a source of great civic pride. It was in 1902 that King Edward VII awarded Bexhill a royal charter to become Bexhill Borough Council. But the council was lost in 1974 when Bexhill, Battle and Rye were merged along with the 29 parish councils to become the mostly rural Rother District Council. Rye kept its own town council, and so did Battle, but Bexhill’s 40,000 residents were given nothing similar.
In 2015, some concerned citizens organised a petition asking for more democracy and 4,000 people signed it. Legally, this forced Rother to set up a consultation process called the Community Governance Review 2017. To help promote this public consultation, the petitioners set up a voluntary group called Democracy4Bexhill or D4B: a non-party group that wanted the consultation to be open, fair and effective, and which is working to spread the word about the need for better local governance. It campaigned throughout the town, to ensure that Bexhill had its say.
Nine hundred people responded to Phase 1 of Rother’s consultation: twice as many as any previous public consultation held by Rother. In Phase 2, this number rose to a massive nine thousand! This was an unprecedented response to any public consultation. A convincing 93.5% of them wanted a town council.
However, Rother said no.
D4B was stunned by this decision, but they decided not to give up, and to campaign for better councillors for Rother itself. The local authority elections were held in May 2019, and new candidates were persuaded to stand – some of them from D4B itself. They included Independents, Green Party, LibDem and Labour. Every one stressed their commitment to Bexhill, and featured the “D4B promise” on their literature. If elected, they would support the creation of a town council. Nobody expected these newcomers to have much impact on the longstanding council.
But on the night, they swept the board. Only one of the Bexhill councillors from the old ruling party, remained. The rest were defeated, and the ruling party lost control of the District. It has been replaced by an alliance of parties, working together.
One of the first acts of the new Rother was to pass a motion supporting the creation of a town council. By law, another consultation had to be held and it ran from January 13th 2020 for six weeks. The turnout was lower at 2,193, but 78% of the respondents were in favour. Rother’s steering group and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended that Bexhill town council be created.
The Cabinet accepted the proposal on Monday September 7th (watch it on Youtube) and finally, the full Council made its confirmation decision on September 21st to give the Town Council the go-ahead.
Watch the debate on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9onM49V8xoY
Civic Revival offers congratulations to all those who have worked so hard to get this very welcome and encouraging decision implemented