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Much to say: new leader Cllr Julia Hilton addresses the Full Council.

Busy night for new HBC leader at Full Council

Vice-chairs for the new Cabinet committees were announced at last night’s Full Council meeting as the new arrangements at Hastings Borough Council continue to be unrolled. Meanwhile it became known that a solution has been found for the council’s contract to build a Premier Inn on the Cornwallis car park. Nick Terdre reports.

It was a busy night for new council leader Cllr Julia Hilton at the first regular Full Council meeting following her election last week. In reply to a question from the Labour group leader Cllr Heather Bishop about the value which the Cabinet committees she is setting up would bring, Hilton explained that it was a solution aimed at getting more cross-party input into decision-making, one of her key priorities.

“It’s an opportunity for all councillors to have their say, we need to find ways for all councillors to express their opinion,” she said. “No one has overall control, so we must find ways to achieve consensus.”

There will be four Cabinet committees, of which the vice-chairs will be Cllr Andy Patmore for the Local Plan, Cllr Sabina Arthur for culture, Cllr Andy Batsford for tourism and Cllr Amanda Jobson for climate action.

The Conservative group, Hastings Independents and the Greens each have one of the vice-chairs, as does one of the council’s three stand-alone independents. A vice-chair was offered to Cllr Judy Rogers of the Labour group but she turned it down after discussing the matter with other group members, she told HOT.

No decision-making powers

As leader, Cllr Hilton will chair the four sub-committees, which will not have decision-making powers but will formulate policies and actions to be decided by Cabinet. Hilton invited all councillors to consider applying to sit on the committees.

The theme of greater openness and participation also came up in questions put by councillors to Cabinet members. Cllr Patmore wanted assurance that discussions on the hotel contract with Whitbread would be held as much as possible in open rather than behind closed doors as a confidential matter, while Cllr Bishop was concerned that the new committees should not be ornamental, citing the practice of members of the previous Cabinet to hold secret unminuted meetings at which decisions were taken which were then passed by the official Cabinet meeting.

Cllr Hilton assured Bishop that the committee meetings will be open and minuted. Ideally she wanted to reinstate a committee system in place of Cabinet though with the short space of time available [before the local elections] that was not possible, so Cabinet committees offered an opportunity for all councillors to have their say and be briefed on important projects.

Vacuum of information

There had been a complete vacuum of information on the Local Plan, the most important document produced by the council, for example, she said. Information on Town Deal projects had not been shared in the past but should be.

She was still working out exactly how the committees would work but would share the terms of reference and ensure public access. “We need to move away from a very closed Cabinet decision-making process,” she said.

A number of changes have been made to council committees, including Cllr Matthew Beaver becoming vice-chair of the planning committee in place of Cllr Alan Roberts, whose place on the committee has been taken by Cllr Maya Evans. The meeting voted through these pre-arranged changes, with the exception of the chair and vice-chair of the audit committee, which was contested. The meeting voted to retain Cllr Paul Foster as chair but replace Cllr Trevor Webb as vice-chair with Cllr Judy Rogers.

Southern Water undertaking

Councillors were also informed that a meeting had been held between the then HBC leader and deputy leader, Paul Barnett and Maya Evans, MP Sally-Ann Hart, representatives of East Sussex County Council and Southern Water at which it was agreed that the utility company would carry out a full modelling exercise of how flood water and sewage travels in its pipes through Alexandra Park and into town to help inform long-term flood prevention planning, an exercise which will take until July. There will also be quarterly meetings between these parties.

Hilton fielded half a dozen questions from councillors, including why the council had remained quiet when many residents were calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and the state of the abandoned St Mary in the Castle premises.

She also mentioned the government announcement of additional funding for local authorities but said it wouldn’t make much difference to HBC’s bottom line as the money is intended for top-tier bodies with responsibility for adult social care and children’s services.

New Cabinet: from left, deputy leader Glenn Haffenden, Simon Willis, leader Julia Hilton, Ali Roark and Paul Burnett.

Hotel proposal

The first meeting of the new Cabinet is scheduled for Monday 29th, when agenda items will include a proposed agreement which releases HBC from its contract to build a hotel on the Cornwallis car park to be run by Premier Inn, a potentially onerous commitment following the near doubling of construction costs to £13.6m.

Instead the council proposes to sell the land to Whitbread, the Premier Inn owner, which will build the hotel at its own cost. In the words of the Cabinet report,  the original contract placed “significant financial and potential legal risks on the council’s sustainability.”


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Posted 10:04 Friday, Jan 26, 2024 In: Local Government


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  1. ken davis

    In this time of serious climate change more than any other the only way forward is consensus and collaboration, so the Greens are making a good start to show a new way of working very different from the secretive behind closed doors of the past which has led to so many failed projects and wasted public resources.

    Comment by ken davis — Sunday, Feb 4, 2024 @ 08:02

  2. Bryan Fisher

    Nobody should be questioning Julia Hilton’s motives or principles in trying to establish a unified and more transparent governing. It is not her or her party which has refused to cooperate. It is not her or her party that formed a cabal to make decisions which were then sprung on other councillors. It may resemble a ‘poisoned chalice’ but I admire Julia for trying to do the best for our Borough and its future!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Tuesday, Jan 30, 2024 @ 14:25

  3. Julia Hilton

    I must challenge Bea’s comment. Labour and Conservatives were both invited to be party of a unity cabinet but refused. Labour have also been invited to take up deputy chair positions on the committees of cabinet but also refused this option. By the way, in response to a comment on another post of yours, committees of cabinet under our present constitution are not able to have decision making powers. That decision sits with cabinet. To move to a proper committee system, which I would support, requires major changes to the council constitution which is not something that can be done quickly. Research and discussion with officers and other councils indicate that this take a minimum of one year as such major changes can only be made at the annual council meeting. I am doing the best under our current system to ensure cross party input into decision making. All group leaders are invited to take part in the briefings that take place prior to cabinet decisions and of course major decisions come to full council where all parties can have their say and actually have an impact on the final decision as no one party has the numbers to force decisions through so we have to reach a consensus.

    Comment by Julia Hilton — Monday, Jan 29, 2024 @ 22:21

  4. DAR

    Amidst the farce, the direction of travel towards a committee system is welcome.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Jan 29, 2024 @ 11:53

  5. Bea

    No, Keith, the Labour Group is refusing to co-operate in a stitch-up which excludes the two main parties from decision making. Hilton seems to be making a lot of key decisions on her own, hardly a democratic move. For the Greens and the ex-Labour people to take over in this way is unacceptable. Especially for those who were elected as Labour Party councillors, with the support of party members, and are now merrily exploiting that position. You could say that everything changed but nothing changed – they are back in power.
    It is quite true that the previous closed-doors decision making (by the very people who are now back) was anti-democratic and also resulted in some very poor decisions. But their ways of working have been shown to be towards the exclusive and secretive end of the spectrum.

    Comment by Bea — Monday, Jan 29, 2024 @ 07:46

  6. Keith Forbes

    The make up of the council is now such that we should get a consensus, as close to PR as it is to get. And labour wants no part of it.
    Typical Starmer Labour party attitude… Stalin would be proud. Our way or no way…

    Comment by Keith Forbes — Saturday, Jan 27, 2024 @ 10:59

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