Labour Tributes, Tory Jibes After Council Leader Quits

Peter Chowney has announced that he will be stepping down as leader of the Hastings Labour party and as Borough Council leader as from 15th March. There will be a special meeting of the council on 18th March to appoint a replacement. However, as the party has a clear majority of members in the chamber and invariably votes as a bloc in key decisions, the selection of the new leader will in effect be determined in a prior meeting of that majority.  It is understood that such a meeting has been scheduled for 17th February.

Cllr Chowney has received tributes from several of his Labour colleagues. Cllr Judy Rogers, who represents Castle ward and holds a council cabinet portfolio of “transformation, governance and people” (previously ‘corporate services’) said that he would be greatly missed and a hard act to follow.

“I have been privileged to work with him as Mayor and also in cabinet”, she told HIP. “He has an amazing ability to remember numbers and facts, and always takes the time to listen to what we are all saying to him”.  She also praised his calm and measured approach in “bringing the team together during a period of massive cuts to our budget”, delivering “the programmes and approaches that help the whole of our community but targeting those in most need”. 

Leader of the Tory opposition on the council, Cllr Rob Lee, who represents Maze Hill ward, has been less charitable. Writing in his column in the Hastings Observer last week he spoke of Cllr Chowney leaving “a very mixed legacy” behind him. “From costly vanity projects to well-meaning but doomed schemes, it will take some time for the council and the town to recover from his leadership”. 

Cllr Lee cited not only the straw-built visitor centre at the country park, the proposals to install solar panels there, and closure of the town centre toilets as expensive mistakes. He warned that his Labour opponent’s ultimate legacy would be the huge level of debt that the council has incurred to fund commercial property purchases which risk a negative rate of return over the long future period for repayment.

Will the council take a different course under a new leader? Among the hats that may be thrown into the ring as Cllr Chowney’s potential successor are those of deputy leader Cllr Kim Forward, Cllr Rogers and Cllr Andy Batsford, whose cabinet portfolio is housing, leisure and community engagement. But whether each, or indeed any, of these councillors would relish the extent of the commitment in time and energy required for the position remains to be seen.

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