Hickling villagers faced with 278pc precept bill rise

Villagers in Hickling face a 278pc rise in their parish precept bill unless the trustees of the charity building a new village hall back down in their threat to sue the parish council over a financial dispute.

Councillors agreed the increase at an emergency council meeting last night after taking legal advice that they needed to cover the risk of being sued for a disputed sum of �21,000.

The trustees - 10 of whom were parish councillors at the time the hall deal was approved - insist it is money owed on top of the �334,000 donation agreed by the council when they were on it.

However, the present councillors, none of whom are trustees, say the �21,000 was money already paid out in professional fees on behalf of the charity - and council chairman Sandra Clarke said they had found seven pieces of paper in the accounts to prove they did not owe it.

It was agreed the trustees should be sent an email offering them the chance to withdraw their threat of legal action to stop the precept rise which will mean an annual rise from �18.69 to �70.72 for a band D home.

The council also agreed to demand the return of �10,000 paid to the charity by the council under the old regime, which had not been correctly minuted and accounted for; they would then consider returing the sum in a correct manner.

Despite disapproving comments from some members of the public, the council also agreed to defer payment of their final donation of �89,000 until it had received the charity's audited accounts and a copy of its constitution.

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Council vice-chairman Angela Lambard said they had been kept waiting months to see the accounts and constitution and it was important they secured safeguards for the village.

Mrs Clarke said the chief executive at North Norfolk District Council had supported their stance as 'perfectly reasonable' at a meeting last week.

Only one councillor, Kris Scott, thought the �89,000 should be paid straightaway arguing the council was contracted to pay it and the whole issue had dragged on too long.

During public question time, Ken Barnes was applauded for his impassioned speech calling on the trustees to hold a public meeting to explain their position.

He said the villagers were in the middle of the dispute and would end up footing any legal bills.

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