Cromer mayor calls for change of leadership at North Norfolk District Council
Tim Adams, speaking in a personal capacity, has condemned the local authority for its 'repeated attacks' on the seaside resort and accused it of scaremongering.
Cromer mayor Tim Adams has called for a change of leadership at North Norfolk District Council amid claims the current regime in charge is incompetent at running the authority.
The town councillor spoke out against what he described as 'repeated attacks on Cromer' by the Conservative administration after the deputy leader, Judy Oliver, supported by leader Tom FitzPatrick, claimed the seaside resort was being subsidised by every taxpayer in the district ahead of the budget being set on February 22.
And he accused the senior councillor of scaremongering for threatening to increase council tax by 25 per cent unless the town backs plans to sell a slice of one of its prized car parks to a hotel developer in a bid to balance the books.
The row over a loss of car parking spaces comes just weeks after the town council successfully lobbied against district council plans to develop one of the town's most prominent parks, at North Lodge, into a car park.
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Mr Adams, posting on his private page on social-networking site Facebook, said: 'I cannot help but reply to these awful, scaremongering, repeated attacks on Cromer. The leadership of the district council have overstepped the mark here and shown themselves to be completely unprofessional.
'Be in no doubt, with the contribution made to Cromer by it's residents, volunteers, visitors, businesses and commuters, Cromer pays its own way.
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'On top of your council taxes, Cromer contributes to the lion's share of parking revenue in North Norfolk. On top of this, there are retained business rates, second homes council taxes, other service charges and smaller contributions, such as beach huts.
'Judy and Tom's constant attacks on the so called 'over-subsidised' Cromer are completely without merit and in fact reflect a complete discontent at the leadership of NNDC across the district.'
The district council pointed out it currently provides £2 million worth of discretionary services – including Cromer Pier, public conveniences and parks - and explained it needs to fill a projected funding gap of £1.3 million over the next three years either by raising extra funds or cutting services.
Mr Adams, who recently quit the Labour party, said: 'Granted, we have a well maintained pier and many 'discretionary' services important to the offering of both the community and our many welcome tourist visitors.
'However, we have crumbling children's play facilities and very poorly maintained green spaces.'
He added: 'I am no longer confident in the abilities of the leadership of NNDC to tackle the challenges ahead. They wish to 'sell the family silver' without a coherent plan for our future. It is time for a change of leadership at NNDC.'
Councillors Oliver and FitzPatrick have responded to the mayor by issuing a joint statement.
In it, they argue his allegation of repeated attacks on Cromer is both 'unfair and misplaced'. They also claim that any suggestion they are threatening to increase council tax by 25 per cent if the current budget proposals aren't voted through is 'simply wrong'.
The statement reads: 'The reality is that as a Council NNDC does spend a lot of money in Cromer because of its status as a tourist destination. We recognise the importance of Cromer Pier as an iconic asset, which should rightly be maintained, but this does come at a cost to tax payers across the district.
'As well as our commitment to the pier, we have in the capital programme monies for the West Prom project which we delivered in part last year with the improvements to the turret walkway access and the works to the Art Deco block.
'This year we have plans to install new public toilets, play equipment and lighting on the West Prom, all of which have been ordered and are due to be installed before Easter and it is also proposed to resurface the West Prom following the recent storm damage. We are also inviting prices to refurbish the boating pond, and shelters in North Lodge Park, as part of a planned maintenance programme.
'In recent years, compared to other towns in the district, the District Council has also directed most money in the provision of new/improved public toilets in Cromer at the Rocket House, on the pier, at the NNIC, and now about to be installed at the West Prom.'
But its adds: 'The Council is now faced with difficult choices because government grant is ending, and it is appropriate for questions to be asked as to where money is spent and whether it might be spent differently or facilities operated differently so as to maintain their provision in the future.
'Cromer is not being singled out by NNDC in this regard, as evidenced by project proposals put forward in Fakenham, Holt and Wells. It would be unreasonable and unfair to taxpayers in other parts of the District to pursue an Asset Commercialisation strategy only outside Cromer, if we have advice that there is a potential commercialisation opportunity in Cromer, particularly given the extent of the spend in Cromer as outlined above.'
The district council leaders explained 'the inescapable reality' is that they are faced with a £1.3 million funding gap in three years' time and have to find ways to meet that deficit - and they have invited anyone with alternative ideas to come forward.
The statement continues: 'A 25% increase in council tax is the size of increase that would be needed were the future £1.3 million deficit to be met through council tax in one year alone. It has nothing to do with the current budget and is not a proposal on the table. This year, we intend to deliver a balanced budget and freeze the NNDC council tax charge for the seventh year in a row.
'We do not want to increase council tax unless it is absolutely necessary as evidenced by our commitment to keeping the district council tax frozen for seven years. We know that Cromer Town Council takes a different view towards Council tax increases and have increased its precept for 2017/18, for a Band D household to £81.88, which is a 12% increase.
'We prefer, where we can, to increase our income by a considered and sound commercialisation strategy and not simply by asking people to pay more. And we would add that it is Cromer Town Council that has led the way in commercialisation of assets by its new crematorium built in the town cemetery.
'An alternative to increasing tax would be to cut services but we do not want to do that either. Again, we prefer where we can to increase our income by using our assets more effectively. It seems to me to be wholly sensible to make better use of what we own and thereby produce an income for the future - and where possible drive other desirable outcomes, including housing, facilities for residents and visitors to enjoy, and greater economic growth. Development of a hotel chain in Cromer has the potential to yield the town's businesses £1 million in estimated revenue.
'We believe that we are demonstrating our commitment to delivering services and spending in Cromer in the context of the current budget position, but against a background of reducing Government support there is a need for a mature debate about how the Council spends its budget on discretionary services moving forward. The Asset Commercialisation Strategy is intended to support this process and to help protect service delivery.'
It is not the first challenge to the leadership of the Conservative-run district council.
In November, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, Sarah Butikofer, claimed North Norfolk District Council no longer had confidence in its leader following the shock resignation of a Cabinet member and the loss of three senior staff to a neighbouring authority.
She claimed that under Councillor FitzPatrick's leadership the council was 'too autocratic' and did not work inclusively with the opposition and officers for the good of north Norfolk residents.
But Tory councillor colleagues, including Mr FitzPatrick's brother Vincent, spoke strongly in his defence and the motion was defeated by 26 votes to 13.
Speaking at the time, Conservative councillor Sue Arnold said it was 'shameful' to bring such a motion against someone who worked so tirelessly for the district.
Vincent FitzPatrick added: 'This motion flies in the face of the democratic vote 18 months ago when the electorate decided to return a Conservative administration with a healthy majority, based on the record of the previous four years. Tom was leader for three of them.'
The district council's Cabinet is due to meet to discuss its latest budget proposals at local authority headquarters, off Holt Road, in Cromer on Monday at 10am. The meeting is open to the public.