At a meeting of Labour party councillors on 17th February Cllr Kim Forward was elected by them to take over as their leader in the wake of Peter Chowney’s resignation. Former mayor, deputy leader of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) since 2015, and current portfolio holder for regeneration, culture and tourism, she will be formally appointed as council leader at a full meeting of members on 18th March.

There will be an election for deputy Labour leader, and therefore effectively of the council, two days previously on 16th March. 

At the meeting last week three candidates put themselves up for election as prospective leader – Cllrs Andy Batsford, current cabinet portfolio holder for housing, leisure and community engagement, and Trevor Webb, who also represents Central St Leonards & Gensing on East Sussex County Council, along with Cllr Forward. Each made “a very good pitch for the position”, according to HIP sources. There was then a ballot conducted by single transferable vote. It does not seem that there was any input from non-councillor Labour party members.

Born in Bexhill, Cllr Forward has lived and worked in and around Hastings and St Leonards all her life, with a former main career as primary school teacher. She has five children and five grandchildren.  

Fellow councillor Margi O’Callaghan described Cllr Forward’s victory as “an amazing achievement for women in local politics” (though the party was led locally by Mary Denning in the 1990s) and “a fabulous accomplishment to see such a strong woman elected to succeed Peter Chowney.

“Even though she has some big shoes to fill – both Peter and Jeremy Birch had a huge positive impact on our town – I feel that Kim has the drive and the vision to take Hastings to new heights and beyond.”

Peter Chowney said: “I’m very pleased that Kim has been elected as the new leader of the Labour Group and will become leader of the council. Kim has been incredibly supportive as my deputy and has my full support as the new leader, a job she already understands well and will be very good at.”

She in turn paid tribute to Peter Chowney’s legacy as leader and to his collaborative style of working. She said: “I have been involved every step of the way as we have battled with the budget to ensure that we can continue to deliver quality services for the residents of our beautiful town.”

Cllr Forward has been playing a leading role in developing plans for a new leisure and arts complex in the White Rock / Bohemia area. However the continued government squeeze on local authority budgets suggests that her primary task will be to implement a radical restructuring of services including imposing compulsory staff redundancies. The need to factor in responses to climate emergency is clearly an added pressure.

Fellow Gensing councillor Colin Fitzgerald said: “Her experience and enthusiasm are going to be vital as we look to continue standing against the disgusting impacts of Tory-imposed austerity upon our residents.”

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