Council leader and Labour candidate Peter Chowney offered advice on what he saw as the town’s top priorities, as he spoke to congratulate the MP for Hastings and Rye on her recent election.
Speaking at a full member meeting of Hastings Borough Council on Wednesday (December 18), Cllr Chowney spoke to welcome the Conservative Party’s Sally-Ann Hart to her new position as the town’s MP.
In doing so, Cllr Chowney, who had stood as the Labour Party’s candidate in the General Election, laid out what he considered to be the three top priorities for the town – transport, homelessness and council budgets.
Cllr Chowney said: “As leader of the council, tradition falls on me to congratulate our new MP for winning the seat for Hastings and Rye.
“Obviously I have an interest in this but I am very happy to do that. Whatever else I believe in I certainly do democracy and the people have spoken. I recognise that and I think it is important we all do.
“I do want to give her three messages though that I would like her to take away from this meeting.
“The first is don’t obsess about HS1. There are a lot of transport infrastructure problems that we need to be sorted out together.
“I would urge her to look at the solutions we need to transport problems here. Environmentally sustainable ones and particularly in terms of cycling and walking infrastructure in town [and] the roads as well, rather than just that one railway.
“The second is homelessness. We are trapped in a situation now where we are paying out huge amounts of money … to keep people in bed and breakfasts and temporary accommodation.
“The reason that is happening is not so much because more people are becoming homeless, it is because people can’t afford to move out of there and into rented accommodation.
“From a public spending point of view it would be far cheaper to raise the local housing allowance … then we wouldn’t have to pay all that money to keep people in temporary accommodation. I would like her to take that message and say ‘please, sort this out it doesn’t make any sense at all’.
“The third one was about the council’s budget. Both Hastings and Rother – both in her constituency – have huge problems with an increasing deficit. That has been because of the cuts over the years and it’s also because of all these additional pressures on our spending.
“I would just say to her please give us some help in representing both of the councils in your constituency to Government and trying to get us some more money. If nothing changes we will run out of money and we will not be able to deliver core services.
“Those are my three initial messages, but yes congratulations and the people have spoken.”
Cllr Chowney’s comments were welcomed later in the meeting by Conservative group leader Rob Lee, who called on the council leader to work with Mrs Hart.
Cllr Lee said: “Can I thank you for your statement and your useful words, all of which are difficult to argue with. I think there is, very much, some good advice contained within there.
“Could I perhaps ask you to present these thoughts and suggestions to the MP in person and work collaboratively going forward with our new member of parliament.
“I would suggest that this is not a time to draw even firmer party lines between us, but a time for us to pull together for the new MP and get things done.”
In response, Cllr Chowney confirm he would meet with Mrs Hart and said he believed there needed to be ‘a good as a relationship as possible between the council and the MP’.
Mrs Hart won the December 12 vote after securing 26,896 votes and a majority of 4,043 – increasing Amber Rudd’s 2017 majority by 3,697 votes.
Cllr Chowney came second with 22,853 votes, while Liberal Democrat Nick Perry secured 3,960 votes and 565 votes went to Independent candidate Paul Crosland.
Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service