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Patmore puts Tory case against Labour’s handling of HBC

Andy Patmore, new leader of the Tory HBC group, explains where he thinks Labour’s leadership of HBC has gone wrong, as the party looks to improve its minority representation on Hastings Borough Council and maintain its majority on East Sussex County Council. Meanwhile it has moved to dissociate itself from what has been called a “racist” tweet by one of its candidates. Nick Terdre reports.

In contrast to the rest of East Sussex, the Conservatives are definitely a minority party in Hastings, though with a current eight out of 32 seats on Hastings Borough Council, they are not as much a minority as the seat-less Liberal Democrats and Greens.

They approach the borough elections with a new leader heading the Tory group of councillors – Andy Patmore, who took over from Rob Lee less than a month ago.

The Tories are thought to be set to benefit from the successful roll-out of the vaccination campaign, with voters apparently little concerned about recent sleaze allegations. But locally their campaign faces the unwelcome fallout of Castle candidate John Sydes’ offensive tweet about black people, which Labour called racist. Liberal Democrats and Greens both told HOT they condemned Sydes’ remarks.

Martin Clarke, association chairman.

Martin Clarke, Hastings & Rye Conservative Association chairman, has not responded to HOT’s request for a comment (admittedly having been given little time) but told Hastings Observer that the party dissociates itself from Sydes’ views and has opened an urgent inquiry into the matter. Sydes however remains a candidate and his tweet still stood at this article was published.

Clear choice

On becoming leader Patmore told HOT he wanted “to give the people of Hastings and St Leonards a clear choice” in the elections.

“There has been a Labour administration running the Council for 11 years and I get the impression they are running out of ideas, complacent and take their residents for granted,” he said.

“Local consultations have the feel of ‘going through the motions’. A Labour councillor commented that residents who had concerns about developments in their areas were ‘moaners’. I think comments like this are very disrespectful to the residents who vote for us. Councillors are elected to represent the views of their residents and it will be my constant aim to make sure they are listened to.”

On housing Patmore acknowledges that viability assessments are a developers’ “stock tool to get out of building affordable homes,” by arguing that the amount of affordable housing they originally agreed is no longer possible. “These viability studies are done in private but I would call for this type of viability study to be carried out in a more transparent way, so it is less open to abuse,” he said.

He called on the government and financial institutions “to find a way of giving people mortgages which sometimes can cost less than the rent they are paying. With interest rates at historic lows, many people would be able to afford to buy their own homes but financial rules, post credit crunch, are not allowing banks and building societies to lend at 100%.”

He credited the new government-backed mortgage scheme to help first-time buyers or current homeowners secure a mortgage with just a 5% deposit, but said he “would go further so lenders could consider an applicant’s previous rent payment record for mortgage affordability.

“It seems anomalous to me that a person or family can be paying X amount of rent for many years and then a bank can turn around and refuse a mortgage application citing unaffordability when the mortgage payments are actually lower than their current rent payments.”

Clarity on climate strategy

Patmore called for more clarity on how the council intends to implement its climate strategy. “HBC voted unanimously to recognise the climate catastrophe this planet faces. We all must do our bit. The council has not really conveyed to the public how they will achieve this.

“There needs to be more investment made so that every HBC vehicle is electric as soon as possible; all public buildings need to be lit by low energy lighting and all public buildings have to be more thermally efficient.

“I would like to see a year-on-year check implemented and published so the public can see how HBC is doing to reduce its carbon emissions and how likely it is they will achieve their targets.”

In their manifesto the Tories also call for a “plastic-free Hastings scheme,” and for more trees to be planted.

“Risky investments”

Patmore also criticised the council’s policy of investing in commercial property. “The gains the council are making with their commercial property investments are risky and a short-term fix. Covid-19 and the general decline in retail makes this type of investment extremely risky. The council has already had to reduce rents which has hit the viability of some of these schemes and we don’t know how these investments will look in a few years’ time.

“Two and a half years ago the council’s own calculation for working out how viable these investments are rated Debenhams a lower risk than the Pets at Home/Dunelm Mills site. We know how that ended. It was only more by luck than judgement that HBC doesn’t own the building [where] the insolvent Debenhams resides.”

The council does not have the “expertise or remit to gamble our council tax on risky property investments. I have argued that a new investment fund should be set up nationally so that councils can invest in British offshore wind building projects or green energy generation rather than borrowing money for commercial property investment.”

Removed from the Cabinet

He lamented the Labour leader’s decision to remove Tory representation on the Cabinet a year ago and defended the role they played. “I can remember many occasions when the Conservative cabinet members were the only councillors who asked any awkward questions (indeed any questions at all) of the officers present. I can remember being openly criticised for doing that by a Labour councillor who told me I should be asking questions at briefings and not in public. I’ll let your readers make their own minds up about that comment.

“When I first joined the cabinet in 2016 I wondered what my purpose was, being a minority cabinet member in opposition. I soon realised that I could be the public’s voice and ask questions residents were asking me in an open forum. I can remember a meeting about the Old Bathing Pool site when people in the public gallery were passing me questions on pieces of paper to ask. I call that direct democracy.

“I would happily sit on cabinet without any voting rights so that I could put questions to officers and debate important matters openly in a public forum. Take a look at cabinet meetings now, there is no debate whatsoever.”

Cllr Patmore, left, argues against solar arrays in the Country Park at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Cllr Peter Chowney (right).

And he recalls his role in arguing against Labour plans for ground-mounted solar arrays in the Country Park, on which he wrote an article for HOT. “If it wasn’t for us (the Conservatives) pointing out that building solar panels on the country park went against Natural England and the council’s own policy, a great deal more public money would have been wasted pursuing that idea.

“I was grateful at the time that Peter Chowney saw the sense in what was being said and started the consultation with Natural England which led to the idea being rightly dumped.”

“We don’t need any extreme left-wing or right-wing ideologies influencing or running our Borough,” Patmore concluded. “We just need some common sense, consensus policies that will drive Hastings and St Leonards forward.”

Candidates

Among Conservative candidates, Rob Lee is standing down, and his Maze Hill seat will be contested by Graeme Williams. In the other Tory held wards, Ashdown, Conquest and West St Leonards, the incumbents are standing for re-election: Sorrell Marlow-Eastwood, Paul Foster and Karl Beaney respectively.

On the county council front, where the Tories will be aiming to ward off a combined attempt by the opposition parties to win control through a coalition, as they have done in Rother and Lewes district councils, Marlow-Eastwood is contesting St Helens & Silverhill, where Martin Clarke is standing down, and Alan Hay Baird & Ore, where Laurie Loe is standing down.

In the other Tory held seats Peter Pragnell and Matthew Beaver are seeking re-election in Ashdown & Conquest and Maze Hill & West St Leonards respectively.

Conservative Party candidates

Candidate HBC ward ESCC division
Sorrell Marlow-Eastwood Ashdown* St Helens & Silverhill
Robert Cooke Baird
Shelley Bland Braybrooke
John Sydes Castle
Sue Clarke Central St Leonards
Paul Foster* Conquest
John Waterfall Gensing
Terry Fawthrop Hollington
Graeme Williams Maze Hill Central St Leonards & Gensing
Stuart Murphy Old Hastings
Alan Hay Ore Baird & Ore
Lucian Fernando Silverhill Braybrooke & Castle
Peter Pragnell St Helens Ashdown & Conquest*
Fiona Archbold Tressell Old Hastings & Tressell
Karl Beaney* West St Leonards
Martin Clarke Wishing Tree
Andrew Patmore Hollington & Wishing Tree
Matthew Beaver* Maze Hill and West St Leonards
Carl Maynard Marsham & Brede Valley
Keith Glazier* Rye & Eastern Rother
Katy Bourne* Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

 

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Posted 20:22 Tuesday, May 4, 2021 In: Politics

3 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    Patmore says that it was a Labour HBC councillor who said that “..residents who have concerns about developments in their areas were “moaners”..” I’d like to know who that was. If true – and I suspect it is after a doorstep dialogue with Cllr. Batsford a couple of years ago about the Harrow Lane Playing Fields proposed development – it illustrates the disrespect for residents that Patmore mentions. I’m not against development on the brownfield Ashdown House site, but greenfield sites should be off limits, particularly if they are the property of HBC – and therefore also of residents. Oh, and we need to rid ourselves of Cabinet Government on HBC – it puts too much power in the hands of a small cabal.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, May 6, 2021 @ 15:09

  2. Patrick Burton

    As a balance and in fairness, good to see right of centre opinion on HOT, even if a bit late in the day; and I think he has a point about the lack of opposition party representation on the cabinet.
    But no mention of so many issues, including social housing, culture and arts, poverty and inequality and more; and of course the permanent Tory majority on the County Council.
    I looked up Castle candidate John Sydes’ various Twitter postings, which were mostly disgusting and extreme right. So why was he chosen as a candidate with that record? And no comment about the last, disastrous Tory administration of Hastings, under Peter Pragnell, who I notice is still a Tory candidate.

    Comment by Patrick Burton — Thursday, May 6, 2021 @ 10:52

  3. Bronwen Griffiths

    Although not a Conservative supporter myself, Patmore does have some important points to make. However, regarding criticism of the Council’s risky investment policy, the fact that successive Conservative governments have reduced funding for all local councils has meant that many councils had no option but to invest in property – often without the relevant expertise.

    Comment by Bronwen Griffiths — Thursday, May 6, 2021 @ 08:38

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