Row between Hickling council and barn charity to go to court

Hickling Barn. Picture: James Bass

Hickling Barn. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

An ongoing battle between a parish council and village hall could come to a head in costly court action.

Hickling Parish Council and the charity trustees of Hickling Barn have been locked in a row over £22,000 racked-up in professional fees during the building of the hall almost three years ago.

The trustees said that the parish council agreed to pay the fees at a time – but the new council administration, voted in May 2011, insisted there was no record of any agreement.

The trustees then sued the parish council for the £22,000 and a further £89,000 the council had agreed to pay towards the project but decided, on legal advice, to withhold.

The council counter-sued for the return of about £200,000 already paid over to the charity.

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The dispute was settled out of court in March this year with a Tomlin order to amend the barn constitution.

It stated that the charity's trustees adopt a new constitution to protect the barn from being sold and restrict the number of trustees represented from local groups from 14 to eight.

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But when the new constitution was rejected by a vote in the Broadland village, the parish council decided to take the case to court.

Previously villagers paid the price of legal action when the parish precept for a band G property rose from £33 to £148 – now predictions are that the council could be forced to hikes taxes up another £300.

But parish council chairman Sandra Clarke said a precept increase would not be on the cards if the parish council lose and are forced to pay the barn's legal costs as the authority has budgeted for any potential legal action.

But court costs could be as much as £200,000 and Mrs Clarke defended the decision to return to court.

She said: 'We have tried everything to resolve this while the charity have tried very little.

'They are saying they will re-negotiate but I ask what have they been doing the last year.

'They don't want to make changes to the constitution to protect the village asset, and it's very sad.'

Spokesman for the barn charity, Chris Watkins, appealed to the parish council to reconsider going to court and instead negotiate with the charity.

'It is absolutely madness to go back to court, there's no need for it,' he said.

'At the moment the barn is a major success story, people are queuing up to use it.'

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