Peter Chowney to step down as leader of Hastings Council

Peter Chowney will be stepping down as leader of Hastings Borough Council after five years in the role.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 10:26 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 12:48 pm
Peter Chowney

Peter Chowney will be stepping down as leader of Hastings Borough Council after five years in the role.

The Labour councillor, who is expected to formally address party members in March, said it was time to let someone else have a go.

The Labour group will be naming its new leader in February, before the next council leader is elected in March.

Councillor Chowney took over the leadership of Hastings Borough Council in May 2015 following the sudden death of former leader Jeremy Birch.

As the former deputy leader, councillor Chowney was unanimously elected leader of the council in an annual council and mayor-making ceremony on May 27, 2015.

Following his election, he said: “When I moved to Hastings eighteen years ago, and adopted it as my home, I could not have imagined that one day, I would be leader of the council. But while it is a great honour and privilege to do so, it is also with enormous sadness that I take on this role, in the last way I would have wanted to, following Jeremy Birch’s sudden and unexpected death. I cannot be Jeremy, I can’t even be a pale imitation of Jeremy, so I will have to be myself. So that means I shall be different from Jeremy, in some ways.

“We do have ambitious plans for the year, and in spite of the savage cuts to our budget, we remain optimistic. I am not going to preside over the Incredible Shrinking Council. If the government won’t give us the money, then we’ll find other ways to raise it. We will remain inventive, innovative, creative, interventionist, bold and, most of all, unerringly ambitious for our town. So, welcome aboard. It’s going to be an exciting ride. There may even be the occasional white knuckle. But one thing I can promise you, it will never be boring.”

Councillor Rob Lee, leader of the Conservatives on Hastings Borough Council, said of councillor Chowney’s resignation: “Peter’s Legacy will be the huge debts that the council now has and it will take many decades for Hastings to recover from his time in leadership.”

Liberal Democrat Nick Perry added: “I have said elsewhere that Peter has given his best and deserves thanks.

“Labour locally and nationally is at a crossroads. I hope they will choose a route which promotes progressive alliances.

“As we look back over his tenure as leader, what is most striking to me is the disparity between the ardent socialist rhetoric and the speculator tendencies of his Labour Council: in a word – not many council houses built and rather a lot of risky debt incurred.”

Councillor Chowney has contested two General Elections in Hastings and Rye.

First, in 2017, he lost out to then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd by 346 votes. Then, in December 2019, he saw Labour’s vote share in Hastings and Rye fall by more than 2,000 votes and the Conservative majority increase to more than 4,000.

Reflecting on Labour’s campaign, Mr Chowney said it was ‘inspiring’ to see so many young people involved, including 500 people helping canvass on the final day.

He added: “During the course of the six-week campaign, the numbers involved here in Hastings and Rye ran into the thousands. Your enthusiasm, commitment, and hard work was very moving, and something I’ll never forget. It was especially good to see so many young people getting involved in politics again, in the Labour Party.”

Earlier this month, councillor Chowney announced a plan to increase council tax contributions to Hastings Borough Council by 1.99 per cent.

This means residents living in a Band D property – currently paying Hastings Borough Council £265.50 per year – will be paying an extra £5.28 per annum, or 10p per week.

Hastings Borough Council said the increase in council tax has been caused by cuts in the grant received from central government. The council said these cuts equate to more than £55 million since 2010.

In this year’s budget, the council is proposing 30 staff redundancies, in full-time equivalents, including some senior managers, to fill a budget gap of more than £2.4 million.

The budget is now in the consultation process and residents have until 5pm on Friday, February 7, 2020, to submit their feedback.