In this occasional series, we talk informally to people whose position in the community can affect our town and the way we live here.
This week, John Minter talks to Paul Osborne, Chairman of Rother District Council. He is also the councillor for Eastern Rother, is on the Licensing and General Purposes Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and, ex-officio, Planning Committee.
John Minter: RDC is often criticised in Rye for giving the impression of only being interested in the town for the money it can produce but not being prepared to return any of that money in kind.
Paul Osborne: Money has to be spent where the greatest cash requirement is and inevitably that is going to be the main centres of population.
Minter: What about Rye’s assets that you seem to be keen to sell off, such as Camber fields. Why are you selling these and what is going to happen to the money you get?
Osborne; The assets are now owned by Rother. They were handed over by Rye after the local government re-organisation in the ’70s when Rye Town Council and the administration virtually collapsed and what was left of the Town administration couldn’t cope and wanted to get rid of them. With the current constraints on income we have to look at all our assets, retain those that are producing a reasonable income and capitalise on those that aren’t.
Minter: Talking of assets, what about the Landgate? RDC’s custody of this has been appalling, you want Rye now to take it back, you cleaned it out for the first time in years using a method that probably did more damage than the generations of the pigeons that had occupied it, you have refused to spend any other money on it despite having funds available to you if required – you even refused to replace a flagpole – and when a surveyor’s report was produced, I understand that large tracts of it were redacted – presumably parts that criticised its maintenance. Apparently around £300,000 is now needed to stabilise it, are you going to contribute the £156,000 that you received from the sale of Camber Fields towards this.
Osborne: That money has been ring fenced but you have a point and I will look into this and see what it is proposed that we should do and let you know.
Minter: Before we leave this subject, what about the flood lights that haven’t worked for years. Why not? The Landgate is a tourist attraction in a tourist town its absurd not to have these lights working.
Osborne: I was there when these were installed and first switched on. I agree they should be working and I will look into it. You must remember that we have limited staff and resources and it is not possible to attend to everything.
Minter: Why has Rother consistently refused to do anything about traffic and parking enforcement in Rye, you are well aware of the problems we have got.
Osborne: First, it has to be financed. We are not allowed to use income from car parks to set up an enforcement scheme. Any scheme would have to pay for itself through charges and fines as it went along. The police have made it plain that parking is not a priority but would be prepared to assist with the costs of the first year. Any parking enforcement would have to be unified throughout the Rother area. It is currently being considered but will take about two years to set up because it would first have to be ratified by Rother, then go out to public consultation, then be ratified by the County Council then go to a further public consultation and finally to the secretary of state. Rye Town Council did, of course, recently vote against parking control.
Minter: Moving on, there is often some frustration on planning decisions, especially when Rye Town Council recommend rejection of any particular scheme but Rother subsequently approve it.
Osborne: Planning is a legal process and Rother D.C. is the authority that is required to implement that process. If we are presented with a development plan that fulfills all the legal and technical requirements and we turn it down, the architects can take it to appeal and are likely to win. The appeal process ties up both money and staff time so the invariable decision will be to pass it.
Minter: Regardless of Rye’s preferences
Osborne: Probably, yes
There were doubtless other subjects we could have discussed but these were ones that appear most frequently in your comments. We will almost certainly be talking to Paul Osborne or his colleagues again at some point so let us know what you thought of his answers and what else we should discuss on future occasions.
A further note: since writing the above, Mr Osborne has been as good as his word and has asked about the Camber fields money and Landgate. He received the following reply from Malcolm Johnston, the executive director of resources at RDC:
“In reply to your questions:
1) The uplighters were gifted to Rother so are ours. We are aware they are not working at the moment and getting them working again is part of the overall plan for how the Landgate Arch is managed in the future.
2) The money received from the sale of assets will be reinvested as you state. It would be very restrictive if we were to say that money raised in a particular area would only be spent in that area – also it may not always work to the benefit of that area.”
Or, to put it another way, what his email really says is: “We’ve done nothing for years and as we couldn’t care less about Rye, we don’t propose to do anything in the future and they shouldn’t expect to see any of that money we raised by selling their land”.
Despite this Paul Osborne has undertaken to get a date when the flood lights (uplighters) will be repaired and I have no doubt he will try, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to actually happen.