Thetford residents call for free car parking to be saved at Breckland cuts meeting

A council could be facing a �3m funding black hole unless cuts were made to reduce expenditure, a public meeting was warned on Monday.

Terry Huggins, chief executive of Breckland Council, warned a meeting of over 60 Thetford residents at the town's Carnegie Hall cuts would be needed after the government slashed its grant to the council by 25pc, meaning the council needed to make �2.7m cuts by 2016-17.

The meeting was the first in the Could We? Should We? process when Breckland residents will be able to question councillors about the cuts at five meetings in market towns across the district, including Dereham, Attleborough, Swaffham and Watton.

Mr Huggins said: 'We would like to go away from tonight with an understanding that if services were no longer provided or provided to a different standard, what would the people of Breckland like us to do about that?'

At the end of the meeting, residents were able to vote on a number of options for services to cut, including CCTV in Breckland, which costs the council �254,000 annually, community development support, which costs �95,000 annually, pest control, which costs �30,000 and the council magazine Breckland Voice, which costs �57,000 annually.

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Introducing charging in Breckland Council car parks was another option to make money, with residents having three choices including the introduction of hourly fees so the car parks self-fund the annual �300,000 cost of running them, introducing parking fees with the first hour or possibly two free of charge, which could realise �150,000 or continuing to provide free parking.

However, visitors to the meeting were concerned bringing in parking fees could drive shoppers to nearby Brandon, which would hit traders already struggling due to the economic downturn, as well as workers who could not afford to pay to park themselves.

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Others feared the second option for two hours free would not be enough time for shoppers to complete their business and might persuade them to use large supermarkets where there was no time limit.

The possibility of providing workers with parking permits was also mooted by a number of the residents.

Other issues raised included the amount of money the council spent on planning consultants and how much of the �12m the council had invested in Icelandic banks had been returned following the banks' collapse in October 2008, which was �9m.

The amount of capital the council had received from its purchase of Barnham Broom Hotel and Golf Club was also discussed, along with the amount of special responsibility allowance received by councillors for responsibilities over and above their role as councillor.

Also present at the meeting was Breckland Council leader William Nunn and deputy leader Michael Wassell, as well as five executive members for different services.

Mr Nunn said: 'For me, this exercise is about trying to find different ways to fund some of the things that the council has done in the past and to deliver different things for our communities in a way that they see fit.'

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