A full house greeted the Mayor, Councillor Jonathan Breeds, when he opened the annual Town Meeting for the electors of Rye on April 4 at Tilling Green Community Centre.
Rye News has already published information about some of the topics that were of concern to residents, including the side meeting held about the proposal in Rye’s draft Neighbourhood Plan for a supermarket on Gibbet Marsh. This article rounds up some of the other matters of interest.
This year, the structure of the meeting was changed, with a number of reports in writing. The Mayor also made it clear that the meeting would close at precisely 9pm, which is exactly what happened. This meant that the main part of the meeting was devoted to questions from the floor.
The audience really engaged with the questions, the answers being provided by the panel of the Mayor, Rother District Councillor (RDC) Lord Ampthill, East Sussex County Councillor (ESCC) Keith Glazier, Police Inspector David Russell, the Town Clerk Mr Richard Fairhall and Dr Anthony Kimber (Vice chair of the Neighbourhood Plan’s Steering Group).
The opening question expressed concerns that people have about the Rye Academy School mergers.
Step forward on Greenway
The Valley Park development was the next to arise, and its links with the town centre, particularly the bridge across the Tillingham, with the developers contribution to the Greenway (a proposed traffic free pedestrian route to the centre from Valley Park) , which came up later in the debate. Dr Anthony Kimber was able to report a meeting to be held in the next 10 days with ESCC and possibly RDC. It was hoped that a feasibility study carried out by ESCC would assist the process.
The filling station proposed by BP, but rejected by RDC, for the top of Udimore Road by Valley Park inevitably came up. One of the reasons for the rejections by the planners was the inspector’s statement when Valley Park was proposed that any development must be “fitted in the landscape”. There was general agreement about the unsuitable site and environmental impact of this kind of development.
There were a number of other questions about planning matters, particularly about the former Freda Gardham School site, including the imminent closure of ARRCC. Councillor Glazier made it absolutely clear that any developments on any part of this site are totally dependent on works by the Environment Agency on the height and direction of the Eastern Flood Wall. It will be “some significant time” before this is sorted out. It was confirmed that the site has been identified for development.
The Avoco site in Winchelsea Road, and the poor impression that this gives on one of the main entries to Rye, had a lot of support in the audience. The site is owned by the Environment Agency, which is in negotiations with interested parties, so this could not really be directly dealt with by the panel.
Keeping High Street open
The Landgate, and possible road closures related to the repairs proposed, had a simple answer from Councillor Glazier – the road under the arch would not be closed, and Councillor Lord Ampthill suggested that works would be carried out using scaffolding.
On the question of the protection of trees around Rye – the questioner had witnessed unauthorised pollarding locally – it was pointed out that normally there is a requirement for planning permission for reduction in size or removal of trees (in the conservation area and if trees are listed), but there is unlikely to be a fine for the perpetrator – which seemed to leave the treescape of Rye in danger.
It was suggested there was a need for an awareness campaign and a strategy to deal with the felling of trees, although no offers of action were made.
The new extended Jempsons Local came in for some criticism, both about layout and cost, feeding into the arguments for and against another local supermarket. On a straw poll at the end, the result was a 50% split on whether or not a new supermarket was actually needed.
Parking, particularly at the bottom of West Street, led to information about the bank closure and local parking enforcement. It seems that when the Nat West bank closes in June, the cash machine will go as well. This should prevent some illegal parking (but Lloyds and Barclays remain). It was suggested that the government will be bringing in legislation to make pavement parking illegal.
The civil enforcement of parking restrictions locally has been agreed, but will take until 2020 to be in place, news greeted with disappointment by the audience.
Police support for Speedwatch
Speeding cars on the New Winchelsea Road brought an answer from Inspector Russell. The police would be pleased to support local speed watch initiatives. Anyone interested should contact him, but he did however highlight some of the problems with people’s abilities to commit long term to such schemes The Safer Sussex Road Partnership can provide a van and camera from time to time, as well.
Potholes, increasing as the winter progresses, must be reported, if anything is to be done quickly. There are only a limited number of stewards to do the inspections. It was also pointed out that the main A259 is not the responsibility of the East Sussex County Council, but of Highways England.
The audience was informed of an initiative, led by Martin Blincow from the Mermaid in Mermaid Street, to support young people through the provision of training posts at a number of local businesses. This excellent initiative has links with West Kent College for the academic training required. There are 12 places available and interested young people need to talk to the employers.
New lease for Tilling centre
Before the meeting came to a close, interest was expressed in the Tilling Green Community Centre itself, where the meeting was being held. It was noted that Rye Partnership was in the process of leasing it for another seven years from ESCC. Support was also given to the idea that Rye Town Council should take over the building, though this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by the panel.
Finally, the pros and cons and weaknesses and strengths of the Rye Neighbourhood Plan were debated, which needs an article in its own right. Apologies were made about the lack of transparent communication, and the meeting finished with a reminder of the planning committee meetings every two weeks usually at 6:30pm on Mondays held to review planning applications.
Questions and feedback can be given by the public and a regular report is made on progress with the Neighbourhood Plan.
“How long everything takes” said one exasperated resident, “why do we wait for ever for all the different agencies?”. The Town Meeting panel and audience were unable to answer this, but had at least voiced their queries and concerns openly in a public forum.
Photo: Gillian Roder