A Bold Plan To Restore Democracy To Rye And The District


On Monday the 14 November at Rye Community Centre the steering committee for the Campaign for a Democratic Rye set out their plan for a return of power to Rye Town Council.

A gathering of over 100 people listened as Dr. Keith Taylor stated that “The Steering Committee had been set up a year ago with the objective of greatly improving public participation in decision making in this town. There were long lists of grievances, ranging from problems with the running of toilets to the building of libraries, relocation of Doctor’s surgeries etc.

The lack of public voice goes back to our loss of Borough Status, along with a host of other towns in the U.K., when local government was reorganised in 1974. Power was transferred to District Councils, ours being Rother.” He pointed out that neither of our two District Councillors were on the Planning Committee or the Inner Cabinet where the real decisions are made. “You can see how this system bypasses people here. The problem was made far worse by the intrusion of regional government and other un-elected bodies.

Regional government is centred on Guildford and has associated committees such as SEEDA. These regional bodies are very well funded by government. They in turn dispense money to District Councils and to the 5,500 partnerships, more unelected organisations. We have of course, the Rye Partnership”.

Dr. Taylor had two important points to make about the Steering Committee “We are totally non political in our outlook. The views of members of our committee range right across the spectrum from green to violet with many shades of red and yellow in between. Secondly, the problems in Rye are not unique. We have discovered that many other small towns and communities have the same problems. People feel they have no say in their affairs. There are a number of remedies being attempted.” Dr. Taylor went on to explain about the possibilities available. Quality Town Status “We did not think this scheme went nearly far enough, and would not solve Rye’s problems”. Then he had a word about the Sustainable Communities Bill “While I Think this is an admiral thing to do there is little in the proposals about improving local democracy”. Then he came to-

                              AREA COUNCILS

This he thought was the way forward “I am sure you will realise that I can only present a possible way ahead for Rye in a skeletal form. The committee will wish to present a detailed plan for all to see and comment on in the next few months.”

Dr. Taylor reminded the meeting of George Washington’s famous slogan “No taxation without representation”. Something he thought “Very relevant to our discussions here tonight”.

Keith Taylor then handed the microphone over to David Bourne who went into the history of Rye. He talked about the Domination of the Lamb family and how John Meryon and 63 ‘Men of Rye’ held their own democratic election and installed Meryon and their elected council in Rye Town Hall for six weeks. They were turned out eventually but their actions ultimately resulted in democracy in Rye, which was retained from that day in 1825 until 1974 when Rother District Council was born.

“I am not suggesting we take over the Town Hall” he said.

Next came Jim Hollands who outlined the nature of Rye Borough Council and  what Rye had lost in 1974. He claimed that “The only way for a possible return to power to Rye Council in the near future was to pursue the Area Council possibility and make Rother well aware that this is what Rye wants.”

There was then a period of general discussion when some good ideas were put forward and a lot of old ground raked over. George Shackleton came up with reams of figures demonstrating the bias there towards Bexhill at the expense of Rye, Battle and the villages. The general discontentment with the District Council was evident throughout and when an officer from Rother, Mr. Hermon, who had been invited to sit in at the meeting, revealed himself he was ‘grilled’ from the platform. Under great pressure he agreed that George Shackleton’s figures were usually correct.

Jim Hollands expressed the general feeling of the meeting when he said “The only way forward that I can see will give democracy back to Rye is to persuade our Town Council to pursue the ‘Area Council’ option.”

Dr. Taylor then put three propositions to the meeting :-

1. This meeting regards the present system of local government through its District Council as profoundly unsatisfactory. It is undemocratic and detrimental to the interests of Rye.

Carried by an overwhelming majority.

2. This meeting endorses the work of the Campaign for a Democratic Rye in attempting to formulate a new and more local scheme of government which better reflects the will of the people.

Carried by an overwhelming majority.

3. This meeting urges both Rye Town Council and Rother District Council to press for change leading to a more democratic form of local government as a matter of great urgency.

Carried by an overwhelming majority.

The Dorothy Margaret, one of the two Rye fishing boats that went to DUNKIRK to rescue our troops.

From “Rye’s Own “ December 2005

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