Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Stalham Town Council has agreed to apply for a £250,000 loan to buy land which cost Norfolk County Council a fraction of the price.
And the town council now plans to tackle the county about its payment terms, so that Stalham residents are spared sharp hikes in their council-tax bills to fund the deal.
The town wants control of the 1.55 acre (0.63 ha) Old Station Yard site, at the town’s western gateway, to stop the county selling it off to the highest-bidding developer who councillors fear would fill it with ugly high-density homes.
The county council bought the site in 1961 for £2,100.
But the bid has split councillors, with one group worried that a decision to go ahead and apply for a 15-year loan from the Public Works Loan Board would lead to future financial difficulties for the town council which has not yet drawn up any plans for the site.
During a stormy town council meeting yesterday night, members were told by clerk Judith Howes that the county council expected to be paid in full by September 2014.
But those councillors who had supported the purchase insisted that terms earlier agreed with the county had spread the payments over a longer period, extending into 2015. The town council needs the extra time to sell some of the land to help repay the loan.
Duncan Edmonds said the town council must go back and negotiate payment terms with the county: “Especially as they only paid £2,100 for the land in the first place.”
Dr Edmonds said he had discovered the original purchase price through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. Today, the figure would be equivalent to just over £38,000.
Pauline Grove-Jones, chairman of the town council sub committee dealing with the purchase, said they planned to ask the people of Stalham what they wanted done with the land. There had been a lot of support among residents for the purchase.
Ivan Kidd said one man had suggested launching a public appeal and had offered to donate £500.
But Sheila Cullingham described the deal as reckless and speculative at a time of deep economic recession when people were facing difficult times.
The town council agreed that its precept for 2013-2014 should remain unchanged, at £50,000.
During the meeting Mrs Howes’ letter of resignation was read out. She will leave at the end of April after 29 years’ service as clerk.