July 24 2014 Latest news:
Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Monday, May 12, 2014
Scores of community projects in towns and villages would be hit hard if Norfolk County Council votes to withhold second homes council tax cash to pay off its incinerator debt, it has been claimed.
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council and Broadland District Council have joined the growing swell of protest at the prospect.
Today the county council’s cabinet will discuss a proposal to cut the £1.04m it pays to district and borough councils from the tax, in a bid to plug the hole in its finances caused by its £30m bill for terminating the King’s Lynn waste incinerator contract.
NNDC and King’s Lynn chief executives Sheila Oxtoby and Ray Harding have written a joint letter to the county’s head of finance, Peter Timmins, objecting to the suggestion and calling for an urgent meeting to discuss it.
In north Norfolk most of the second homes cash goes into a Big Society Fund and an Enabling Fund, which have both paid out multi thousands of pounds to community causes in the past two years, ranging from village hall repairs to skateparks.
NNDC leader Tom FitzPatrick said the cash was specifically intended to benefit areas with large numbers of second homes like north Norfolk which had the highest proportion - about 10pc - in the county. NNDC could lose more than £900,000 this year if the cash was withheld.
“I am furious that this proposal has come forward without consultation,” said Mr FitzPatrick. “We have communities which suffer rural isolation and this money is being ploughed back in to help them. We fear this is only the thin end of the wedge.”
Broadland leader Andrew Proctor said he was disappointed at the lack of consultation.
The loss of any of the money would hit the local community which had been receiving it as part of Broadland’s community grant programme.
“It is equally disappointing that the district council is being asked to bail out the county’s financial problem when the issue is not one that involves Broadland. It strikes me that this is a ‘grab whatever money can be grabbed’ approach to bail out the county council,” he added.
Breckland Council leader Michael Wassell has already said the move risked damaging long-term trust and relationships.
Peter Terrington is chairman of the finance committee of Homes for Wells which recently received a £150,000 NNDC Big Society grant to help convert a former field studies centre in the town into 10 affordable homes for local people.
He said without the grant the homes project would not have been completed. Wells had a large number of second homes, rising house prices and more than 100 people on the waiting list for affordable homes.
“This is what this money is ideally suited for,” he added. “It would be devastating if it was stopped.”
County council leader George Nobbs has said the final decision would rest with the county council.