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New HBC leader needed after Peter Chowney’s resignation

Hastings is soon to get a new council leader following Cllr Peter Chowney’s decision to step down. He will however remain as a councillor. The new leader should be chosen in mid February. Nick Terdre reports.

Cllr Peter Chowney – who became leader of Hastings Borough Council in spring 2015 after the untimely death of his predecessor Jeremy Birch – is to resign from the post, though he will remain in office as a councillor for Tressell ward until May 2022.

After nearly five years as leader, HOT was told, Chowney felt it was time for someone else to take the reins. By this time, he said in a valedictory statement issued by the local Labour Party, “I’ll have been a Hastings councillor for 20 years. This year we’ll be making major changes to the senior management structure, so it’s a good time to let someone else take over.”

Speculation over successor

Speculation is already rife around who his successor may be. One obvious and well-placed candidate is deputy leader Cllr Kim Forward, who holds the regeneration, culture and tourism portfolio. Other names in the frame, according to sources consulted by HOT, are Cllrs Andy Batsford and Trevor Webb.

Batsford appears to be a strong contender – as holder of the housing, leisure and community engagement portfolio, he is conscientious in attending residents’ meetings on controversial issues such as the proposed housing development on the old bathing pool site in West St Leonards to put the council’s case, even though few seem persuaded.

Webb sits on the licensing and planning committees, and leads the four-strong Labour group on East Sussex County Council, as well as championing human rights issues such as the rights of refugees.

One would-be candidate who has already withdrawn is Cllr Judy Rogers, HOT heard.

The new leader will be elected by the HBC Labour group in mid February and formally elected at a meeting of the full council on 18 March, when Chowney officially relinquishes the post.

Photo: HBC

Photo: HBC

Parliamentary candidate

Chowney will be remembered in part for his two unsuccessful parliamentary campaigns, notably in 2017 when he failed to unseat Amber Rudd by just 346 votes.

As council leader his time was marked by the continual reduction in council funding by central government and the consequent undermining of public services.

“The last few years have been a difficult time, with the huge budget cuts we’ve had to make,” Chowney said. “Over this last year, we’ve had to cover a £2 million budget deficit, with an additional £1 million to find next year…Unless the government provides more funding for councils, local government will become unviable.”

Local Labour said that Chowney “should be remembered as the man who helped keep Hastings afloat at a time of austerity and shrinking council budgets.”

Entrepreneurial socialism

“Faced with government-ordered cuts to council budgets – Hastings lost £55 million over 10 years – Peter embraced what he called ‘entrepreneurial socialism’, buying and building commercial property to rent.

“The ability to borrow from a special central fund at low interest rates, and then rent out to businesses, helped the council to both fund its services and boost local jobs.”

Although councils everywhere have been under pressure since the Tories came to power in 2010 to generate their own income, not everyone is convinced that Hastings’ high level of borrowing, even at low interest rates, is the way to go – though most critics fail to proffer alternative solutions.

“[Chowney] also recognised the threat to us all from climate change when he led efforts to set a target for the council to become carbon-neutral and generate its own green energy,” said Labour. But as with several of its housing initiatives, this has also led the council into controversial territory, notably with its solar farms proposal.

Homelessness

Chowney also championed efforts to tackle the homelessness crisis in the town by buying property and entering into long leases with landlords, Labour said, in order to avoid putting families into disruptive bed and breakfast accommodation.

“I’d like to thank everyone throughout Hastings, in the public, business and community sectors, who has helped and supported me over the last five years, and indeed throughout my 10 years in various roles in the Hastings Council cabinet,” he said.

“Hastings is a wonderful town. It’s been an enormous privilege to serve our borough as the council leader and it is still an enormous privilege to live in this beautiful, vibrant, creative and eccentric town.”

Posted 15:54 Friday, Jan 31, 2020 In: Politics

6 Comments

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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    Nothing will change in this town until such time that the residents get to grips with what is happening all around them….how many are really aware what this undemocratic council is doing behind closed doors? How many know about all the borrowing that is going on with feckless investmenst in questionable commercial enterprises? How many are aware of the planning departments adminstration procedures? For most all these are far too complex to understand let alone protest about…it is left to the few who value and love this town to try and put a halt to this destruction and waste of public monies….I do not know the answers but there have to be answers before it is all too late. Surely Peter Chowney now understands why a Tory MP was recently elected to represent us here? A truly amazing outcome despite all Peter Chowneys promises of a great future. Has he and his colleagues learnt nothing from this.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Feb 10, 2020 @ 12:04

  2. Michael Madden

    I completely agree with Penny. Openness and transparency have been the stated aims of HBC. They have invited Hasting’s taxpayers to “hold us to account” if they feel that their council is failing to be either and, as Bolshie states, have actually been closing down regulatory pathways that locals used to be able to use to ensure that they can be held accountable. No, this is not democracy at all and certainly not “For the Many, Not the Few.” So it really would be great to see more democracy through a more balanced representation of parties in the council. It has been very saddening for lifelong Labour voters to see that a local Labour dominated council can be so blind to democray. The White Rock ‘Masterplan’ and the Solar Arrays project proposal both claim to be Green initiatives, but neither is, and that can be proven, but who gets a chance to speak? HBC allows so little opportunities for real debate on the best future for the town. Hastings locals live in constant fear that their greatest heritage assets will be harmed, or totally destoyed. There are no real open forums and and yet this council claims to be socialist. Let’s hope that the new leader grasps the fact that openness and transparency are in fact vote winners. He/she needs to demonstrate more democracy, not less.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Sunday, Feb 9, 2020 @ 10:48

  3. Bolshie

    While in some respects I am not overly enthused with the Committee idea, I do have to agree with Penny it is one system of having an improved level of transparency over this current situation. This current issue with the solar panel farm ear marked for the Country Park and spending £80K on consultants to tell us it is a wonderful idea ( something I put money on it will turnout that way ) is not democratic.
    What else has this man allowed on his watch as leader. Many will not realise his party agreed to reducing the time allowed to speak at a planning application. They agreed to increasing the number of objections to planning applications before they go to the committee. If you have a planning inquiry outside of an active planning application it will cost you between £70 to £120 for an answer.
    Having said all that one thing that would be honourable is for Cllr Chowney to redact a totally false claim in the local Labour manifesto of how they “Achieved” the saving of Robsack meadow from development and secured its future as a Local Nature Reserve ( LNR ). That was never ever “Achieved” by this party. It all happened due to a small group of campaigners spearheaded by Paddy Stephenson who spent seven years fighting to stop the council building apartments on this quintessential meadow adjacent to an ancient woodland. It was that lady and some of use who gave our time, energy and money to stop it. And the victory was “Achieved” to save it all done by a presentation by Paddy at the Local Plan hearings before a Planning Inspector who visited the site. Having listened and seen it, he made it quite clear this should never be touched and remain in perpetuity as a meadow. There have been several letters in the local paper about this very issue but this councillor and his chums have decided to ignore this issue.
    Footnote to on this. Here we are five years past since the LNR status was ordered by this Inspector yet HBC has still not “achieved” its final ratification with DEFRA and Natural England.

    Comment by Bolshie — Tuesday, Feb 4, 2020 @ 10:40

  4. DAR

    Agree with Penny about the cabinet system – bring back committees.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Feb 3, 2020 @ 14:11

  5. Penny

    It would be great to have more democracy in Hastings Borough Council, and not have the power in the hands of a small cabal making decisions for the rest.
    ” For the many not the few”?
    People are more likely to speak to their local councillors than respond to a “consultancy” or online questionnaires.
    If the current cabinet system were to be discarded in favour of the erstwhile committee system, (which worked perfectly well and allowed reasoned debate and public participation), this would go a long way towards a return to a transparent democracy.
    What’s all this Toytown mayoral fiasco about?
    That could be scrapped as antiquated, cute as it may be, plus it would save money, whilst bringing some credulity to the operation. I imagine Larry the lamb to come trotting and baa-ing along every time I see another photo of the bechained post-holders in the local media.

    Comment by Penny — Monday, Feb 3, 2020 @ 08:46

  6. Keith Piggott

    Whatever one’s politics, it must be said that Labour Cllr. Chowney has made a timely also dignified resignation as Leader of the Council. Whatever his personal qualities, I do not know him, it seemed he never quite possessed the drive nor charisma necessary to win a seat in parliament against the greater constituency of Rye and the county hinterland. Nor did he tackle public mistrust in local planning matters that have concerned residents across the borough. It will be interesting to see the calibre of his successor.

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Monday, Feb 3, 2020 @ 00:33

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