A job to keep up appearances

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Rye is to have its own town steward – for a trial period of 12 months. That is the decision taken on Monday night by town councillors by 10 votes to three. The primary task will be to maintain and improve the town and parish environment, working 20 hours or three days a week.

Where did the idea come from?
In recent years there have been an increasing number of complaints to the town hall from residents and tourists alike about the appearance of Rye. At the same time, district and county councillors have repeatedly warned of the likelihood of further cuts to a range of public services. Aware of these problems, Richard Farhall, the town clerk, drew up draft proposals for a town steward.

Whether employed by the council or self-employed, this odd-job man would be paid by and accountable directly to Rye council. In summer, Farhall passed on his suggestions to councillors and he cited the success of a similar scheme already well established in Battle.

His proposal coincided with efforts by members of Campaign for a Democratic Rye to draw attention to the poor state of the town. Since then the proposal for the steward has been steadily evolving.

What will a steward do?
Here is the list of suggestions

  • Clearing litter from public or publicly accessible areas
  • Visually checking the Skate Park for defects (weekly)
  • Manual removal and control of weeds and other vegetation
  • Undertaking minor repairs/maintenance eg pointing, painting, refixing) to RTC property and – with consent – property owned by other public bodies *
  • Removal of dog faeces
  • Pruning of trees and bushes (within reach)
  • Cleansing and maintenance of the Skate Park
  • Acting as the “eyes and ears” for the community – having regard to vulnerable residents and anti-social behaviour
  • Cleaning signs
  • Clearing gulley grates, verge grips and headwalls
  • Digging out blocked gulleys
  • Removing vegetation obstructing signs, telephone kiosks, postboxes and grit bins (owned by Rother, the county council and Amicus Horizon)
  • Clearing snow/ice from, and hand gritting, public footways
  • Trimming overgrown hedges and trees along footways and rights of way *
  • Checking and maintaining stiles *
  • Reporting fly tipping/abandoned vehicles
  • Clearing minor storm debris on the highway
  • Siding footways to ensure that they are passable by wheelchair users *
  • Removing fly posting
  • Painting / maintaining fenceposts
  • Reporting (via the clerk) maintenance issues and complaints from the public
  • Greeting visitors and engaging with residents and businesses (while out and about)
  • Covering for ceremonies (occasionally)
  • Responding to town hall alarm call-outs

* To be authorised by town clerk

The list originally included the temporary repair of potholes and temporary resetting of paving slabs (up to a certain size), but these tasks have now been removed.

How much will this cost?
The cost for a year will be £14,940. There will also be set-up costs – for accommodation, tools and a vehicle. The county council will contribute £3,455 towards set up, leaving Rye to find another £5,210. Rother might also contribute match funding for set-up costs from its community grants fund, however the outcome of such a bid will not be known until next March. Rye councillors have made it clear that they wish the steward to start work as soon as possible, so they are unlikely to wait for confirmation from Rother.

How will Rye council find £14,940 a year?
It will be funded through the Rye Precept (local council tax). Farhall explained: “Rother hasn’t considered a draft total budget for 2015-16 year – this is usually done in January – which informs the precept. It is possible that a proportion of the £14,940 could be absorbed into the existing precept figure – but I won’t know until next year’s total budget has been considered – and agreed. Also, we don’t yet know how much council tax support grant will be passed on to us by Rother for 2015-16. If all of the £14,940 is added to next year’s precept it is estimated that this could cost a Band D council taxpayer an additional 17p per week

Where will the steward operate from?
He and his equipment will be based at ARRCC (at the former Freda Gardham Primary School site), hopefully starting in the first week of January The post will be formally advertised in the December Fixtures and, probably, Friday-Ad – as well as Rother’s website.

Why is this post significant for Rye?
In 1974 Rye councillors decided to transfer many assets, statutory powers  and responsibilities to the district council. As a result, Rye council was left with the limited status and powers of a parish council, while trying to steer its own fortunes and preserve its heritage as a tourist destination. That decision that has come to haunt Rye in recent years, as frustrations have intensified over the perceived decline of the town, and the painfully apparent lack of power and resources locally to do anything significant about it. So the creation of this post is a significant milestone for those who believe more financial autonomy and authority should be returned to the Rye.