Conservation Society battle

David Bookless takes the chair

 Rye Conservation Society held its 46th AGM in the Town Hall last Friday April 27 and a certain level of excitement was expected because of a contested nomination for the office of chairman.
John Griffiths was not standing for re-election and David Bookless, Hon. Secretary of the Society, and Anthony Kimber duly registered their nominations.
Each candidate having provided a personal manifesto, the election process was eagerly awaited, with a certain amount of canvassing of members, with the result that the attendance on the day achieved surely a record of some 90 paid-up members.
Following the customary reports by chairman and treasurer, Kenneth Bird, one of the Society’s vice-presidents was authorised with the consent of those present to act as chairman for the election process.
This had been advertised as being by show of hands, but members expressed their preference in strong terms for a secret ballot.
Each candidate was given four minutes to present his vision for the Society’s future and his credentials for undertaking office. Following questions to each from the floor, the two appointed tellers collected the voting papers and counted them under supervision from the chairman.
The result was declared, 50 votes for David Bookless and 35 for Anthony Kimber, whereupon the former took the chair and, completing the agenda business, concluded the meeting.
Before doing so however, he proposed that John Griffiths be nominated as the Society’s president. This was seconded by Julian Luckett, vice-chairman, who paid tribute to the outgoing chairman, and the motion was approved with applause.

Photo: Kenneth Bird


  1. Only the title indicates what occurred! This is very much a “committee” view of what was a highly controversial process. Why no mention of the lack of warning of any leadership election in the agenda; the pre endorsement by the Committee of the successful candidate; the “bussing in” of voters; the flawed election process; a prejudicial statement by a committee member about one candidate. The result was managed by a committee keen to retain the status quo. Any form of change was not on the agenda. Arguments continue; letters to the “new” chair remain unanswered. This was a sad day for the Society and may well prove to be its long term downfall

  2. I have resigned as a member of the society. I am very distressed that another of our splendid local institutions is now controlled by relative newcomers who appear power crazy and unconstitutionally manipulative.

  3. Anthony Kimber played a key role in developing the Rye Neighbourhood Plan. He’s devoted five years of his life to this local planning tool for Rye and I believe it’s a well-researched and effective document. I’d hoped for some slightly better protection against inappropriate development, but planning’s the art of the possible these days. Dr Kimber’s views should be respected. The Rye Conservation Society plays a pivotal part in approving and dismissing planning applications for Rye, and it’s important that these decisions are made by utterly impartial, experienced people whose primary aim should be to protect Rye from inappropriate development. I have been very worried recently that some of RCS’s decisions have not been to the “high standard” one should expect. May I ask if RCS is ever lobbied by developers or project proponents? I suspect it is. Dr Kimber’s comments point to serious problems within RCS. Rye does not need a conservation society led by reactionaries, it needs impartiality. We need the most experienced and most impartial people in charge. They should be politically neutral. Why does this article not include details of the two candidates’ visions for the RCS? That’s the interesting part of this story, as is what truly happened in the run-up to the vote. What are Mr Bookless’ qualifications for the role?

    • In reply to this comment I should point out that Mr Saxon is not a member of the Conservation Society but I would be happy for him to join and help us continue to build a Society open to everyone wherever they live or used to live and whatever their politics are as long as they have an interest in preserving Rye as a wonderful place to live. I have lived here for thirty years and have been secretary of the RCS for the past three years. Not being a member he will not have seen the manifestos outlining the two candidates views which were distributed to all members before the AGM. He can also read them on the web site. He may also not know that Planning Decisions are made by Rother District Council, although the RCS does have an input, it has to be sensible, logical and based on planning regulations if Rother are to take note of our views. A full press release in response to the various other comments made criticising me and members of the committee will be released in a few days.
      David Bookless, Chairman Rye Conservation Society

  4. The Rye News report on the Conservation Society AGM was about as bland as it could have been. No hint in the article of the complete shambles that it actually was.
    Split in two by the election of the new chair, the year’s achievements of the Society, such as they were and the retirement of John Griffiths including his elevation to President were lost in the confusion.
    The election was certainly more exciting than the usual desultory show of hands.
    I spoke to one individual who, in all innocence, admitted they knew nothing about the Conservation Society and had only recently joined with the sole purpose of voting against Anthony. The behaviour of a committee member who attempted to make a statement, before we had voted, that was clearly aimed at criticising Anthony was appalling.
    I suggest that the committee takes a look at their constitution; the objectives go way beyond commenting on proposed planning applications.
    At the AGM last year they declined to be involved in the Neighbourhood Plan. Their involvement now seems to lack positive input and is more to criticise. It is unbelievable that a separate group had to be formed to take up the important issue of the state of the historic Landgate, a major feature of the town, after the Conservation Society wrote it off.
    I have supported the Conservation Society for many years. I believe it is important that there is a local group of interested individuals to conserve the look and feel of a town such as Rye. That is why I proposed Anthony Kimber for Chair of the Conservation Society. I had naively imagined that the Society would be delighted to have someone of Anthony’s calibre on the committee.
    Paddy Harvey.

  5. I must take issue with Paddy Harvey’s statement that Rye Conservation Society (RCS), of which I am a Committee member, has “written off” the Landgate. The Landgate is featured on the cover of the 2017 Annual Report because of RCS’s continuing commitment to securing its future, and the Society is working with the Town Council and the new Friends of the Landgate Group – as noted in a paragraph in the Chairman’s report. He wrote “The Society has been constantly reminding Rother of the Society’s grave concern and of Rother’s legal responsibilities since 2011” And it continues to do so. Furthermore RCS has in principle agreed a financial contribution to renovations, on the condition that such a contribution is spent on enabling works that will allow restoration of the clock.
    It was only thanks to relentless pressure on the District Council by RCS that a structural survey of the Landgate was ever undertaken. It then took several months before this was released by the Council, whereupon it was considered very carefully by our Committee experts and debated at length. The committee includes the former Mayor of Winchelsea who has valuable experience of dealing with two similar gates there. We reached the conclusion that the restrictions of the site, the limited and dangerous access to the interior and inadequate internal space meant that any meaningful use was impractical. No other local or national group has, as yet, come up with a cost-neutral suggestion for conversion – except for the suggestion that it could become a communications hub, a proposal put forward by one of our Committee. The fact that so many professionals have failed in this regard strongly suggests that there is no such solution, which is why RCS has proposed its stabilisation as a ruin. The Society proposed a “once-and-for-all” stabilisation with addition of a roof so that ongoing maintenance would be kept to a minimum. However, the Council balked at the potential cost, estimated at over £1m.
    The District Council has shown an obvious desire to rid itself of responsibility for the Landgate. Indeed its anxiety to do so might be considered confirmation that it knows it is a money-hungry asset which will never produce a financial return. Given that, it would be a brave person, or group, that took it on. Any transfer would be in perpetuity and would leave current residents, and those of the future, with a permanent financial millstone. In my view it would be irresponsible of the Conservation Society to recommend such a move.
    If anyone has a practical suggestion that is affordable I am sure RCS, the Town Council and the Friends of the Landgate will all be delighted to receive it.

  6. I was away for the AGM of the Conservation Society but upon my return I soon learnt of the sad state of affairs that has overtaken the Society. The report in Rye News seemed to bear no relation to what had happened. It was anodyne in the extreme. However, I was interested to see that it was written by the same person who chaired the election of the new Chairman of the Society. I feared a conflict of interest, but no, contrary opinions are at least appearing in the comments below.
    It seems to me strange that the out going Chairman, did not reveal his decision not to stand again until after the Annual Report and Agenda for the AGM had been distributed to members. Someone of that experience and knowledge should surely have known of their intentions, and that it was better to have that decision stated before the papers went out, thus allowing interested parties to put themselves forward for the position? Even if a committee member was proposed as Chairman, an open process would have that proposition in the papers for all to read.
    I have always thought it was very foolish of the Conservation Society not to be one of the leading organisations in formulating the Neighbourhood Plan. I have been a Life Member for well over thirty years and even before that, in discussions with Sir Brian Batsford, then a tenant of Lamb House, and one of the early members or even founders of the Society, there was the feeling that Rye needed an organisation that would campaign for the betterment and improvement of the built environment. Indeed, Sir Brian was very keen on this, and felt the new Conservation Society needed to save the town from certain architects! He would be very disappointed in the Society becoming re-active, rather than pro-active. The creation of the Neighbourhood Plan is very important to Rye and I am full of admiration for Anthony Kimber in trying to achieve one and for having the immense patience and stamina to co-ordinate the various bodies that need to be involved and have their say. It is no mean task, and one that the Conservation Society should be fully involved in and supporting.
    At the AGM itself there seemed to be confusion over the voting, with red papers being handed out, then allowed to be written on, and two boxes, so that members could clearly see who voted for whom. In the constitution I thought it was a show of hands. Was the constitution just put on one side? A secret ballot may be better, and in which case the constitution should be amended at the next AGM. There appeared to be one committee member who began to make a statement against candidate Anthony Kimber but was not stopped by the “chairman” for some time, yet others wishing to ask questions were silenced. From all reports to me, it was a shambles, which has left the Conservation Society looking amateurish. I remember years ago being hectored by one person, who felt themselves important, that professionalism was not going to get one far in Rye: how right they seem to be, but what an amazing statement to make.
    There seem to have been last minute joiners, as Paddy Harvey has said, whose sole aim was to vote against Anthony Kimber. How many of such people were there? All in all, the Society has not covered itself in glory and needs to go and think very carefully about its future and definitely not just hope the problems will go away.
    Lastly, I agree with Andrew Bamji about the Landgate. No-one will take it over because of the long term liabilities involved. To me it is Rother’s duty to look after it and it should be proud to do so. I was appalled when our RDC Councillor, David Russell, said that it ( the Landgate ) was not part of Rother’s core business. Yes it is, that is what local authorities are about, their communities, not just selling or contracting out to others. The Conservation Society must be in the van to ensure its future.

  7. As the above comments make clear, the RCS AGM fell victim to the same ‘fate’ as the Rye Art Festival AGM did in 2014 – a case of history repeating itself?
    The town’s established organisations seem stuck in a bubble of self-perpetuating ‘cosiness’ – I would have said gentility but there is nothing ‘gentle’ in the previous comments …..
    The town’s demographics are changing (rapidly) and new-comers to the town’s community will obviously be interested in the various clubs and societies that provide opportunities to ‘get involved’ with their adopted home. The least they might expect is open and transparent management.
    If the RAF and REG can modernise themselves then so could the RCS but that process starts with an influx of new blood and new energy.

  8. Interesting points. But the generic Neighbourhood Plan guidance notes/rules make clear that Community Organisations (such as Rye Conservation Society) can only make formal comments having first consulted their full membership – a lengthy and costly process! Also that comments are expected at the Reg 14 status point, which we have recently reached. RCS is, I believe, the only Community Organisation in Rye which undertook this rigorous task and made a comment.
    In education, there is a concept of the Critical Friend. This is a definition from 1993:
    “A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.”
    Should you read the Society’s comments, you will see that far from being negative they were well-considered and designed to help make sure that the RNP is not rejected by either the Independent Examiner or the electorate (the make up of which has yet to be decided). We have asked questions and made pointers that we believe will help get the RNP adopted.
    The only real objection the Society raised to Version 10 of the RNP was the proposed siting of a supermarket on Gibbets Marsh (not least because this would have the knock-on effect of having to tarmac over whatever green areas are left in Rye for replacement car parking). This clearly resonated with a significant number of people in the wider Rye community – over 60 people came to the recent Annual Town Meeting to express their objection to this proposal.
    As a long-standing member of the Society, we respect and listen to your views, and these and other points are being addressed by the Committee and will be acted upon.
    I am a member of the RCS committee, a member of the Rye Neighbourhood Steering Group and a Town Councillor.
    I leave you with a further quotation:
    “The Critical Friend is a powerful idea, perhaps because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of unconditional positive regard. Critics are, at first sight at least, conditional, negative and intolerant of failure. Perhaps the critical friend comes closest to what might be regarded as ‘true friendship’ – a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique.”

  9. I was resisting the urge to comment again but having seen the remarks by Society Committee Members breaking from cover, I cannot resist. Given the recent criticism of the Society, I suppose it was to be expected that there would be some talking up of their perceived achievements. Having read the references to the Landgate, I am reminded of the timid statement by the Society some months ago in Rye News. My, how its line appears to have changed.
    I then read with interest the point about “critical friends”. In my professional career, I was selected to be part of a formal critical friend group for a specialist function within a big national institution. You could say that I know something of this “powerful idea”. In my experience there are two aspects of being a critical friend. First there is a requirement to be a recognised subject expert. As they have avoided supporting the Plan I am unclear about the Society’s expertise in the dynamics of developing a Neighbourhood Plan within a democratic framework. Secondly the befriended organization has to accept the friend and its criticism. This acceptance is built on built on trust, respect, shared expertise, common experience and professionalism. After such an AGM, in my view the Society meets neither of these two basic requirements. Many will not know that in the early years of our work on the Neighbourhood Plan the Society rejected a request by the then Mayor for help to develop aspects of design in the Plan. Now to suggest that it self elects as a critical friend is impertinent to say the least.
    However, we should not be diverted from the main thrust of this communication: the appalling handling of the 2017/18 AGM and the flawed and manipulated leadership election. For those who were not present at the event, I do suggest that you look at the two candidate’s manifestos on the Society’s website. If nothing else you will see what sort of Chair the Society might have had. One small example of my approach can be seen in the work that I am presently doing for another role. I have been reviewing the requirements placed on small charities by the Charities Commission. The Conservation Society is of course a small charity. I have been reminding myself of the Nolan Principles for boards and committees: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The way the AGM was handled was, in my view, a case study in how to ignore the Commission’s guidance! I intend to seek their advice to see whether they agree with my assessment.

  10. I really think it’s time to call time on the present debate,who or should or shouldn’t have been elected as chairman of RCS.,the chairman was elected with a healthy majority, sour grapes,is not the way forward, for a society that has been respected for many years,by the citizens of Rye..


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