I came away dispirited from the Hastings Council meeting on 28 February, which set the budget for the town. Dispirited because councillors of both main parties spoke in favour of car parking charges despite the overwhelming public opposition shown by the 2,000 who signed the petition. Only one councillor - Richard Stevens (Old Hastings) - spoke against.
On the councillors’ own admission this issue was the one which overwhelmingly topped the list of responses to the consultation exercise – and one where the responses were overwhelmingly against. The wishes of the public have been swept to one side.
We still don’t know how the £200,000 annual budget is spent. We still don’t know why savings have not been identified or alternative funding sought. This was not touched on in the debate. Why is the Country Park budget sacrosanct when cuts have been forced elsewhere? Is the money wisely spent? We just don’t know.
Councillor Michael Wincott (Lab, Ore) was vehemently against concessionary season tickets for Rother residents. He said it was Hastings’ park, paid for by Hastings taxpayers. He would have heard in the debate how much Hastings (and other authorities) depend on central government grant, making his assertion total nonsense – I cannot understand his motivation. This, together with costings and other details of the scheme, have never been properly revealed or publicly discussed.
Elsewhere in the world people are prepared to make great sacrifices to establish forms of government responsive to the wishes of the people. In our supposedly democratic system the people have been ignored and we are expected to go away quietly and accept it. We must not accept it and must continue the fight.
The debate was dominated for far too long by repetition of national party political positions at the expense of discussing Hastings’ own issues. I have no idea who the councillors thought was listening. Hastings deserves much, much better and must struggle to get it.
This is not an argument about money. It is about free access to the countryside and recreation. It is about proper democratic consultation, openness and responsiveness to public opinion.
Shepherds Way, Fairlight.