The story so far
It starts back in 1902, 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 campaigned for more of a voice in decisions affecting their town. Everyone else living within Rother had a parish or town council. But Bexhill didn’t. We needed one – not to replace Rother but to better represent Bexhill residents’ interests.
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 that council was lost in 1974 when it was merged with Battle Rural District Council to become the mostly rural Rother District Council, covering over 197 square miles. The 29 parish councils within Battle, including Rye and Battle town councils, remained in place, but Bexhill? No. Bexhill was left without its own parish or town council. Its over 40,000 residents were the only people in Rother without one.
In 2015, some concerned citizens organised a petition asking for more democracy and 4,000 people signed it. Legally, this triggered a consultation process from Rother: 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 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 had to be held and it ran from January 13th 2020 for six weeks. The turnout was lower this time 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 discussed the proposal on Monday September 7th 2020 (watch it on Youtube), followed by full Council. The Community Governance Order, the legal papers creating Bexhill-on-Sea Town Council, was signed in Febrary 2021 by Rother District Council’s Chairman Cllr Brian Drayson, and Chief Executive Malcolm Johnston.
The election of the brand new council was held in May 2021 – in the middle of the pandemic – and several past members of D4B stood and were elected as councillors. They had joined forces with other like-minded people who had long campaigned for a town council, and formed a group called Bexhill Together, and its members had a small majority. The two main political parties did not field candidates, and all the councillors elected were Independents, bar one Liberal Democrat, and they vowed to work together. Now the real challenge began!