Worthing’s Labour councillors sat down for what they believed after their proposal to spend £20,000 on benches and planters for a busy shopping area was voted down.
At a borough council meeting last week, Helen Silman (Lab, Heene) suggested that the money could be added to the £425,900 being carried over to the revenue budget for 2019/20, and could pay for 12 planters and 12 benches in Montague Place, along with five years of maintenance.
While Labour and Lib Dem councillors all liked the idea and said the seating was wanted by residents, their Tory counterparts dismissed it, calling it a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the council having a bit of money left to spend.
Annoyed with the outcome, and accusing the Conservatives of using the idea as a political football, eight Labour councillors headed to Montague Place and sat on the ground to highlight the lack of seating in the area.
During the meeting, Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said every councillor could have spoken to their residents and then asked for money based on what people wanted.
He added: “We could all do that. What we actually need, though, is to look at the position of the council and the fairly limited funds we’ve got.
“We know about the low reserves that this council has. We’ve also been told about the increased risk to this council by the investment portfolio that we’ve got.
“But none of that is taken into account in terms of this proposal. It’s just ‘there’s some money here, let’s spend it on benches’.
“That’s the issue I’ve got. If you’re seriously looking to run a council you need to do a bit more work than what you’ve done on this. You need to have a strategy. You need to have an end point and a procedure to get there.
“Just to turn up and say let’s spend £20,000 on this really isn’t going to get you anywhere.
“The reality is there are a number of other priorities that this council could have considered, which many members would consider to be more important than benches.”
Labour leader Rebecca Cooper leapt to Ms Silman’s defence, saying she had put a considerable amount of work into her idea, had followed due process and had even approached the relevant county council cabinet member – though she had yet to receive a response.
Responding to Mr Waight, she said: “Even though we’re desperately interested in what individual members think in this chamber about Montague Place, we are actually here to represent the community of Worthing.”
She warned the Conservatives that to vote down the proposal sent a message to residents that ‘we’re not going to listen to what you say’.
Montague Place was given a £1.2m re-vamp by the county council in 2016 but not everyone was completely happy with the work.
Following their sit-down protest, Mrs Cooper said: “For three years we have been listening to people telling us how disappointed they are with [the county council’s] remodelling of Montague Place.
“There are only two benches and both of them are tucked away.
“When there’s a performance in this focal point of the town centre there is nowhere to sit and enjoy it.”
She added: “We know that local government finances are very tight, but for a relatively small sum we could have done something that would really enhance Montague Place.
“It’s improvements like this that will attract more people to the town centre and encourage them to spend more time there.
“We appeal to the Tory Councillors to forget the party politics and back what residents want to see.”