Every town has possessions that have been accrued over the years. Rye is no exception, at one time the Borough Council owned more than half the dwellings and ground within the Rye boundaries.
All this changed when first, the East Sussex County Council became responsible for education, health and police and later when the Local Government Reorganisation Bill came into effect in 1974 and Rother District Council was born.
Almost everything Rye owned was taken into the wider ownership of either County or Rother. The freeholds changed hands and when the dust settled all that was left to the newly formed Rye Town Council was its Town Hall and the adjoining cottage. County and Rother were what could be described as ‘trustees’ for Rye and the people of Rye. The fate of the ‘family silver’ was now in their hands.
Up until 1990 they seemed to keep that trust. Rye was cared for quite well and improvements could be seen in many areas. Good account was taken of the Town Council’s ‘recommendations’ and, on the surface, the new system seemed to be working.
In the nineties this slowly changed. The Ferry Road School was considered redundant and the site was deserted, leaving many fine buildings unguarded and unsecured. These buildings would have made a fine Library and Doctor’s surgery plus safe walk-through and cycle path to the Thomas Peacocke. Instead they were vandalised, burnt and finally demolished by County and left like a bomb site and eyesore to this day.
The Rye Partnership was born and with an illusion of authority gained by inviting Councillors and representatives from other organisations, Chamber of Commerce etc. to serve on its committee, started on a ‘Regeneration’ programme that involved distributing £4,000,000 (later £10,000,000 as proclaimed by the then Partnership Chairman Peter Jones) for the benefit of Rye and the immediate district.
There is no doubt that many of the smaller things the Partnership arranged were of benefit to the town, small grants to the Bonfire Society, the Medieval Society and the Rye Festival, another for computers for the Thomas Peacocke and grants fo seagull proof litter bins.
It is their property dealings that have gone wrong and turned local opinion against them. Except for the Harbour Shop project which has undoubtedly been a good thing for Rye Harbour, the Partnership’s other dabbling into property have been of dubious benefit to Rye and may have put their own existence into question.
Examine the Library fiasco. The Partnership promised the owner of the Central Garage site all kinds of grants and concessions if he would make the ground available for a new library. What happened? After an initial grant of £90,000 of public money to clear the site no more cash was forthcoming and the area has remained undeveloped for five years.
Then we come to the Partnerships involvement in the Lion Street School, the present home of Rye Library. This building was made possible by Pix Meryon, a benefactor of the town. He gave the ground IN PERPETUITY for the education of the children of Rye. It has always been used for educational purposes and was sold by Rother in the nineties for the sum of £1 to Hastings College of Further Education.
Somehow Rye Partnership persuaded the College to SELL the buildings off to developers. Rother District Council has granted planning permission for LUXURY FLATS! When the Library does eventually move to Cinque Ports Street the Lion Street School will be lost to Rye forever.
Just recently, East Sussex County Council have passed their own plans and sealed the fate of three sites that morally belong to Rye and should be used for the benefit of Rye and the children of Rye. By putting the new primary school on a piece of scrubland next to the Thomas Peacocke they have, in one fell stroke, freed up the Ferry Road Site (which could not be used until another site had been found for the new school), the Tilling Green School and its playing field and the Freda Gardham School with its extensive sports fields.
All three sites are now at the County Councils disposal. They will, no doubt, be sold to the highest bidder.
They are selling off the family silver.
The proceeds will not be coming to Rye. These sites could have been used for genuine low cost dwellings for local people, a doctor’s surgery in walking distance, senior citizen’s clinic and day centre (including specialised keep fit equipment), library, community centre, parkland, cycle and footpaths, parking etc.
It doesn’t end there, Rother District Council closed the Rope Walk Public Conveniences. This building, which used to house the old pumping engine that transferred the water from Queen’s Well to the cistern in Pump Street and was later used as a Soup Kitchen, is a building well loved by all true Ryers. It was refused a conservation order so can be sold off for development at any time.
Rother sold off all the remaining housing built by the old Rye Borough Council to Rother Homes, a development company, in the nineties. A £4,000,000 price tag might have seemed a lot of money at that time, but what are they worth now? Where is the 4 million? Its in the District Council’s coffers. The interest it earns (approx. £250,000 per year.) would be very handy if it were used in Rye, but no, some of it is spent in Bexhill, probably on the De La Warr Pavilion but the bulk goes towards helping pay the ever increasing wage bill that the District Council generates year on year.
Allotments near Love Lane have been acquired from Rye by Rother as late as 1991, this is rather a mystery as allotments have a special standing and are not supposed to be sold without the sanction of the Home Secretary. Now these same allotments are being used in conjunction with the building of the new school. The allotments in South Under Cliff are also under threat, the new Rye Plan puts them in a building zone!
What ‘silver’ will be left for future generations of Rye residents to enjoy? Are the Landgate, Ypres Castle and St. Mary’s Church suitable for luxury flats? The answer to that may be a yes – if there is a profit to be made.
“Rye’s Own” August 2007
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