Battle to overturn car parking hike across north Norfolk lost - as council also votes not to fund Weybourne cable appeal

A last ditch effort from campaigners to get controversial hikes to parking charges across north Norfolk thrown out has been lost after finance chiefs rubber stamped their budget.

The increase, which formed part of North Norfolk District Council's 2012/13 budget, was branded 'incredibly stupid' but nodded through by a majority vote at tonight's full meeting.

Another fight was also lost at the heated meeting after a plea for the authority to set aside �100,000 to fight a major planning appeal, which would help pave the way for a huge offshore windfarm, was turned down.

Councillors voted not to dip into their reserves to fund the planning battle against Warwick Energy, after its plans to lay underground cables from Weybourne to Great Ryburgh were thrown out last month.

Before the meeting began members of the North Norfolk Labour party demonstrated against the parking charges outside the council offices, and asked members to reject the budget and 'let sense prevail'.

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Residents also pleaded with members to throw out the fee increase, which they argued were damaging to businesses, workers and students.

Speaking in the meeting Gloria Lisher, from Fakenham, urged them to 'reconsider their budget' adding: 'This is the big society speaking and we expect you to hear and act on what they have to say.'

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Nick Lee, vice chair of North Walsham chamber of commerce, presented a petition signed by more than 1,300 people opposing the changes, and said they would have a 'detrimental' impact.

Their comments were echoed by several councillors, including Graham Jones who described the charges as a 'stealth tax'.

'This is an incredibly stupid thing to do when families across north Norfolk are struggling too with the financial down turn,' he added.

'Businesses have made it clear from Mundesley to Fakenham that they're going to be effected by it, students will be effected, in fact virtually every member of this community are going to have money extracted from their wallets.'

Members of the ruling Conservative party argued the charges had been agreed in December as part of the council's savings package and could not be revisited, and pushed through the vote to approve the budget.

But leader Helen Eales did offer an olive branch to opponents after she revealed the issue of free car parking in North Walsham in Fakenham - set to be scrapped when the hike is introduced in April - would be discussed again by the council's cabinet in the next few weeks.

She also proposed not to set aside the six-figure sum needed to appoint a panel of experts to defend the council at Warwick's appeal, saying a 2.5pc increase in council tax would effectively be needed to pay the expensive legal bill.

She added: 'Therefore we will have to ask some serious questions about whether spending �100,000 represents the best use of tax payer money in these austere times. I regretfully propose that the council does not make available the funds to defend this appeal.'

Michael Baker, who led the call to throw out the cable plans at January's planning meeting, was incensed by the proposal and thought it was 'disgraceful' the council was prepared to give democracy away 'for a few silver coins'.

'We can't possibly go back to our constituents and say 'to uphold democracy it might cost you two pence on your rates',' he added.

Mr Jones also warned not fighting the council's corner could set a precedent for future planning battles. But after a debate Mrs Eales' motion was passed meaning the plans will now go back before the planning committee.

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