After council ignores their petition… ‘Does local democracy need a defibrillator?’ ask bathing pool site protestors

“…we have Peter Chowney seemingly playing the part of Captain Bligh, ignoring those around him who are trying to resolve the crew’s unrest and convinced he knows better. The local community has voted, and it begs to differ!”

Where now for bathing pool protestors? our headline asked after their petition was effectively ignored by members of Hastings Borough Council on Wednesday night.

They were quick to show they’re not finished yet and have come back fighting with accusations of gerrymandering on the council’s part.

They want to know why HBC claims only to have properly received a petition with only 268 names on it when more than 2,500 people have put there names to electronic and paper petitions all of which, according to campaigners, were properly submitted to HBC before last Wednesday’s meeting?

The lower number made a big difference to protestors because unless a petition has at least 1,500 signatures there is no obligation for the council to debate it. Campaigners believe the 268 quoted by the council is the number of people who signed online at what has been described as the council’s, ‘very clunky, on-line petition site.’ 

Bryan Fisher one of the lead campaigners told us: “HBC had the potential to do something momentous on Wednesday. Lucie Mason formally presented joint petitions containing over 2,500 signatories against housing on the Old Bathing Pool site on Seaside Road.

“All she was asking for was the council to have a meaningful dialogue with the community.”

Ms Mason had just five minutes to deliver her presentation to the full council. After she finished and Councillor Peter Chowney had replied on behalf of the council, failing to answer any of the substantive points that had been raised, Councillor Judy Rogers ruled that as there were insufficient signatories on HBC’s official petition site, the council could not, under its constitution, hold a debate on the matter – a point challenged by Councillor Matthew Beaver.

Campaigners say:

“Nothing states in HBC’s processes that has to be the case and nobody bothered to find out why! In fact so many supporters failed to register on HBC’s official version because it is not ‘fit for purpose’.

“To resolve the problem Lucie created another version on Change.org, and the higher number of signatories (with their email addresses) were added to the physical petition and those on HBC’s petition site to total in excess of 2,500 signatories!

“To put this into perspective, in the last local election all the votes cast in West St Leonards for one of the two councillor posts was 1268. This just shows the support the campaign has against housing on the Old Bathing Pool site! 

Mr Fisher says: “Councillor Chowney finally admitted there had been ‘two lively public meetings’ which actually related to the original development years ago and ‘lively’ meant ‘overwhelmingly against’.

“He gave the same condescending speech that public consultation had occurred and how the community would be consulted after the Terms of Engagement were signed. He completely ignored the community’s overwhelming desire for a leisure and tourism-led approach, continuing to offer instead – presumably as a sop – artist studios and an oblique reference to their plan for a glamping site!

“When Lucie tried to point out he had ignored the wishes of the 2,500 signatories she was shut down by the Mayor who was chairing the meeting, apparently petitioners cannot indulge in meaningful dialogue either – it has to be on HBC’s terms!”

“…there is overwhelming opposition to the plans to develop housing on this last seafront green space…”

Mr Fisher went on: “Those of us in the local community would have liked to point out that seven nearby sites offer space for well over 500 dwellings; that artists do not need, or want, those studios; that the site is completely unsuited to glamping and the local community wants only a leisure and tourism approach to bring visitors along the promenade and off the coastal cycleway, generating jobs and revenue.

“This council meeting was a golden opportunity for HBC’s Labour-led majority to realign itself not only with the West St Leonards community but also align itself with all the other political parties and our MP.

“There is overwhelming opposition to the plans to develop housing on this last seafront green space place – let alone the proposed five high-rise blocks and a multi-storey car park leaked plans show!

“Instead we have Peter Chowney seemingly playing the part of Captain Bligh, ignoring those around him who are trying to resolve the crew’s unrest and convinced he knows better. The local community has voted, and it begs to differ!”

Campaigners concerns include the fact that whether HBC sells off the land or not, by building and selling flats they will have sold off the possibility for future generations to decide how this unique space can best serve their community,  “This is a public asset which HBC has no right to cash in on,” they say, adding: “the council are merely custodians and have a responsibility to preserve such assets… This unique site has to remain wholly in public ownership with no permanent structures being sold off to restrict future use.” 

Lucie Masons says: “Consultation after signing contracts will be futile. They (the developers of the site) will be signing a contract that will allow them to build and sell properties. To make a profit they will need to build a lot of them. The community wants to retain the area wholly for public ownership. How can consultation ever work in favour of the community’s wishes if contracts have already been signed?” 

On Friday, after reviewing the negative impact of the petitions being officially downplayed, local community action groups submitted to Mayor Nigel Sinden, a letter that highlights four reasons why they believe a debate should have been held and indeed should still be held, poasibly when the full council meets again tonight.”

The letter to Mayor Nigel Sinden says:

Dear Mr Mayor

I refer to the Council meeting on Dec 16th and would thank you for the opportunity I had to present a petition behalf of local residents. However, I was surprised and disappointed that local residents were unable to hear the Councillors consider and then take a view about the matters raised in the petition. I had the impression then, reinforced by feedback since, that many Councillors were similarly disappointed. The appearance has been given that the council doesn’t care enough to respond to genuine local concerns.  

I think there are four reasons why a debate should have been held and indeed should still be held at the adjourned council meeting this coming Monday (Dec 21st).

The Council had before it a recommendation attached to the officer’s report. This recommendation was not debated and no decision was taken. This oversight is at the very least a discourtesy to one of your own senior officers. 

To my astonishment Councillor Judy Rogers referred to receipt of a petition of only 268 signatures. On this base and subject to sub section 10.5 she appeared to instruct you to reject a debate. However, the 268 signatures are only those submitted via the council’s, very clunky, on-line petition site.  Many further signatures were submitted in the proper format in paper form.

Why were these not included in headcount?

Have the forms been lost by the council? 

There is no requirement in the Constitution that petitions have to be submitted exclusively in electronic or paper form – and there’s no logical reason why they should be. It is very likely that the total signatures submitted in due form to the council exceeded 1500. I note that many further signatures were submitted on the Change.org website. In total about 2,500 have signed the petition. 

Section 10.10 makes it clear that where the council has accepted a petition (regardless of the numbers) and invited someone to address the council then the council has to decide what it is going to do about it.  However, no decision in response to the petition was actually taken on Wednesday by the council. 

Section 10.10 sets out a range of options, the most appropriate, sensible and logical one seems to be ‘considering’ the matter and then deciding what to do. Councillors did not have a chance to consider the matter and no decision was taken. In effect the petition has been left up in the air.

I know that you as Hastings’ leading citizen are conscious of your duty to ensure that the views of your fellow citizens are properly heard in the workings of the Council. There is sufficient flexibility in the wording of Section 10 for you to use your discretion as Mayor to let Councillors to debate and decide on this important controversial matter. 

8 thoughts on “After council ignores their petition… ‘Does local democracy need a defibrillator?’ ask bathing pool site protestors

  1. I’ve only lived in Hastings for five years but I am amazed to discover that in such a small and compact borough the council is so out of touch. It seems to do things to the community rather than with it or for it. Why are councillors so impervious to local opinion?

  2. When is a petition not a petition?

    The occasional angry rant about HBC’s fiasco is hardly surprising. HBC councilors were voted into a position of responsibility to reflect the aspirations of the community they ‘serve’, instead they behave like tyrants steamrolling over the rights of the citizens of St.Leonards.

    It took me (and I’m reasonably technically competent) five attempts to sign the HBC version of the petition. I was successful in the end, but there has been no consideration by HBC of those of us who are either, less techie or perhaps less patient than me to sign what has been described as anything between ‘clunky’ to deliberately discombobulating …

    Of course, Cllr Chowney and chums don’t want to debate this seriously unpopular proposal. They would be defeated, why would they put themselves at such risk?

    Oh! Wait a minute, I remember! It’s called democracy.

  3. It seems that it is not only HBC’s petition process that is ‘not fit for purpose’ – if the councillors cannot understand their own constitution or (worse) chose to distort it for political reasons, then HBC’s Labour majority is also not fit for purpose!

  4. During the meeting, Cllr Chowney said: “But of course we had already included it in the Local Plan and kind of had that debate about whether the site should be developed and how…” Perhaps he has forgotten a similar commitment regarding the Cornwallis car park. He will conveniently ignore that this site was designated under the same Local Plan for housing and retail units. Now they have changed their minds, they want to build a hotel. 

    Then, he said: “Part of the delays had been due to the complex leasehold agreements at the site, with the council intending to retain ownership of the land’s freehold.”

    But, if you refer to item 17 of the Public Document Pack, the fourth bullet point states “…  the freehold of the relevant phase would be transferred.”???

    Transferred to who?

    Regards Graham

  5. The petition could be debated if councillors had any interest in democracy. Hiding behind a procedural rule is undemocratic and leaves a bad taste. Even if the petition was not in the approved format (and that is very debatable) the council could decide to suspend this rule of procedure and allow a debate and vote on the petition.

    This would require a councillor to raise a motion to suspend the rules of procedure governing petitions. This motion would need to be supported by the majority of councillors. A debate and vote could then be held on the petition. It is clear that the ruling Labour Group have no interest in debating and voting in an open , transparent and democratic way on a petition that has attracted 2500 signatures.
    They make a mockery of local democracy.
    Cllr Rogers and co are hiding behind the rules of procedure concerning petitions. This is not a good look.
    In the interests of democracy and “fair play” it is possible for a councillor under section 15 to raise a motion without notice to suspend the rules of procedure. This would allow suspension of the rules concerning petitions and allow a debate and vote on the petition.
    Section 10.5 covering petitions would require suspension:
    15.Motions Without Notice
    The following motions may be moved without notice:
    ….
    n. to suspend a particular Council procedure rule;

    24.Suspension and Amendment of Council Procedure Rules Suspension
    24.1 All of these Council Rules of Procedure except Rule 16.6, save to permit all proposals to be considered together when the Council is considering the budget and the corporate plan, and 17.2 may be suspended by motion on notice or without notice if at least two thirds of the whole number of members of the Council are present. Suspension can only be for the duration of the meeting.

  6. The reconvened Full Council of 21 December was a disappointment. There was no mollifying approach by the Council. Perhaps they don’t read the local media, or don’t care. Saying nothing about the petition or local grievances seemed like a significant Own Goal. If literally thousands of signatories are to be disregarded, an explanation would help.

    The discussion tonight on the refurb of Millets (York Buildings) in the town centre was also troubling. After Cllr Rankin pointed out the costs to Council of the lack of project management, Cllr Davies insisted on the intention to project manage. Past and present were not related. Why the intent to project manage without the implementation (so far)? The Road to Hell, and good intentions, came to mind.

    Then Cllr Chowney confused architectural quality with design quality (as in that Georgian habit of no real foundations: not in itself a reason to demolish – say – Downing Street). He also defined the significance of the Millets building as the mathematical tiles. Historic England say otherwise.

    Worse than these was the Complete Ignoral of petition procedure — a strategy that persuades (and fools) nobody. The west end of the Borough deserves better than this.

  7. I think Captain Bligh is meant -not Captain Blyth as quoted here.
    Vice-Admiral William Bligh FRS was an officer of the Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. The Mutiny on the Bounty occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; after being set adrift in Bounty’s launch by the mutineers, Bligh and his loyal men all reached Timor alive, after a journey of 3,618 nautical miles.

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