The story so far
It starts back in 1906, then races forward to a massive community campaign in the last four years which has already transformed the political landscape in Bexhill.
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. But Bexhill doesn’t. We need one – not to replace Rother but to represent Bexhill residents’ interests better.
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? Oddly, no.
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. We 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 has to be held, which is where we are now: It starts on January 13th 2020, for six weeks and we need to be ready. If we all speak up again, we are nearly there!