Christmas freebie in danger as North Norfolk District Council tightens belt

An end to free car parking at Christmas is on the cards as North Norfolk District Council warns residents of tougher times ahead - including council tax rises.

The council's cabinet yesterday recommended approval of a budget for the coming financial year, which will freeze council tax, car park and season ticket charges, and protect public services.

Savings, generating extra income and dipping into reserves have helped the council juggle its finances to cope with a �1.1m loss - equivalent to an 11.8pc reduction - in its 2011-2012 grant from central government.

But Peter Moore, the council's resources cabinet member, said they were braced for a reduction of �2.7m - a little over one third - in central government support over the next four years and council tax would probably rise by 2.5pc in each of the following three years.

And, despite all its efforts, the council was anticipating a funding gap of just under �900,000 in 2012-2013.

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The figures meant that the council faced a 'significant challenge' and Mr Moore added that one of the early casualties could be the annual free car-parking scheme, available on the four Saturdays before Christmas, which cost the council about �15,000 a year in lost revenue.

Sheila Oxtoby, the council's deputy chief executive, said part of the reason councils such as north Norfolk lost out in government grant allocations was because of a shift in favour of urban areas and away from recognising the particular needs of rural communities with sparse populations.

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In a later discussion, members agreed that the council should highlight the money it spent supporting vital rural services, such as community transport schemes.

This year's budget, which will go to the full council for approval on February 23, includes savings of

�558,000 gleaned from internal efficiencies and nearly �220,000 from a new waste contract.

Extra income will come from areas including an increase in planning fees and a government grant paid according to how many new homes are built or empty properties brought back into use as homes, and �200,000 will be taken from reserves.

But Mr Moore said: 'Reserves can only be used once and it is, therefore, important to remember that this cannot provide a long-term solution for balancing the budget.'

Council support for services in the coming year includes:

�700,000 for pools and sports centres in Fakenham, Sheringham, Cromer, Stalham and North Walsham,

�400,000 for 150 parks and open spaces

�300,000 for foreshore facilities such as lifeguards

�200,000 for arts and entertainment

�140,000 towards the Cromer Pier pavilion

��50,000 towards Cromer Museum.

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