Rother Report for 2020
This has been a year like no other for the Liberal Democrats jointly running Rother District Council.
The year started slowly with the Rother Alliance administration trying to put its stamp on the way the Council is run and administered through launching a Transformation programme. Following a tranche of voluntary redundancies amongst staff, the two Executive Directors also come up with a senior restructure plan which meant the redundancy of one of those posts.
However, the Covid pandemic hit the country and Rother soon swung into action with officers and Councillors responding to the needs of the Community with little help from the Government. Officers were soon home working, and the resilience and emergency plans worked extremely well. Councillors and Parish Councils were at the front line and responded with community help groups, food bank support and the local link the communities in Rother needed. Unsurprisingly the Conservative councillors were fairly conspicuous by their absence. A major achievement was the bringing inside of all the homeless in the District.
The pandemic has changed the way Rother works, with home working now a preference of many staff and the official requirements of the Council is being reviewed in line with this. Rother was one of the first Councils to have remote meetings, and has worked efficiently like this ever since, and will for the foreseeable future.
The Lib Dem & Green Group of Councillors met remotely for the first time in March, and have met almost every Thursday since, finding that a weekly chat amongst ourselves did wonders for our wellbeing and effectiveness. It would be nice to meet physically but that is some way off yet.
Since the easing of restrictions, the work of the Alliance is accelerating at breakneck speed.
Rother has created its own Company 'Alliance Homes' to build, sell and provide affordable homes across the District. The first project is Blackfriars in Battle with the plans already shared amongst Councillors. The design and specification of the development is far above what normal housebuilders are currently providing, and the environment is at the front of everything that is being built, reflecting the Alliance's aims. Work starts next year, and there are schemes in Rye and camber in the pipeline.
Bexhill Town Council
A long-held aim will come to fruition in May 2021 when elections are held for 18 Bexhill Town Councillors. This will mean that Rother will become a proper strategic District Council and will not spend time running Bexhill as it has for 46 years.
Civil Parking Enforcement
While strictly a County Council matter, it was a Lib Dem petition that started the process and this has now come to fruition meaning welcome parking spaces in Town Centres are now available for shoppers, and illegal yellow line parking dealt with. As a consequence, we are looking at Rother car parks to maximise usage alongside maintaining an income. A major victory was reducing the season ticket rates for Battle users who had previously been charged a premium.
The work continues apace with the appointment of Kristina, a dedicated Environment Officer, whose passion and enthusiasm has re-energised those working with her. Environmental considerations are now included with every piece of work and decisions made, in line with our Emergency.
The redundancy of Executive Director Tony Leonard and the elevation of Malcolm Johnstone to Chief Executive in September has already motivated and energised the whole Council. With Malcolm fully supportive of the Alliance's aims and initiatives it is now a case of trying not to do too much, such are the ideas and projects that are coming forward. Revamping the Camber visitor offer, rebuilding and repurposing the Town Hall, building dedicated motorhome parking, devolving services to Parishes,
Planning is undertaking a full external review after the Alliance identified it as a poor value service, and improvements should start being implemented soon.
An underlying deficit of £750k a year in revenue income is a top priority for us. Either income has to go up or spending down or a combination of both, which will no doubt affect services somewhere. This is an issue kicked down the road by the Tories, but the Alliance will have to make tough decisions.
The Community Infrastructure Levy income (CIL) from new housing is being reviewed by a small group of Councillors to wrest back control of this spending from an officer group. The lazy Tory administration let Tony Leonard have free reign over the spending of a multi-million-pound pot of money.
The Parishes of Rother were brought together once again when the Parish Conference was revived albeit virtually. An outstanding success, a key aim is to work closer to all Parishes and gain support before the next District elections.
I am pleased to report that the range of responsibilities has increased for our seven District Councillors, and the Lib Dem Group certainly punches above its weight. Our informal alliance with Cllr Polly Gray (Green) is working well, with particular support for Richard in Bexhill.
Cllr Sue Prochak MBE (Robertsbridge)
Deputy Leader of the Council
Cabinet Member for Environment & Place, and Member Development Champion
The portfolio includes Waste, Rural Affairs, Public Toilets, Customer Service, Disaster Planning
Vice-Chairman - Planning Committee
CIL Steering Group
Climate Change Steering Group
Cllr Kathryn Field (North Battle, Netherfield & Whatlington)
Cabinet Member for Environmental Management
The portfolio includes Environmental Health, Health & Safety, Climate Change, Energy, Transport, Parking, Cemeteries.
Member of the Joint Waste Group and Licensing Committee.
Chairman of the Climate Change Steering Group
Cllr Kevin Dixon (South Battle & Telham)
Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance Management
The portfolio includes Financial strategy, Governance, Procurement, CIL
CIL Steering Group
Cllr Vikki Cook (North Battle, Netherfield & Whatlington)
Vice-Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny
Chairman of Car Park Steering Group
Anti-Poverty Task & Finish Group
Cllr Richard Thomas (Bexhill St Stephens)
Council Champion for Walking & Cycling - advises Cabinet
Community Governance Steering Group
Cllr Andrew Mier (South Rother)
Chairman Licensing Committee
Cllr Howard Norton (Rye & Winchelsea)
My thanks go to all our group for their unstinting hard work for their communities in this trying year, and for starting to transform Rother District after years of Conservative neglect. This Administration will leave an indelible legacy.
Cllr Kevin Dixon
Leader Lib Dem & Green Group - Rother District Council