Three more councillors resign in Hickling hall row

Three more parish councillors in Hickling, near Stalham, have resigned as a bitter dispute over the building of the new village hall threatens to escalate into costly legal action.

The three, Viv Tallowin, Mandy Elliott and Lorraine West, are all past or present trustees of the Recreation Ground Charity steering the project to build the �750,000 hall.

Their resignation over the weekend - leaving no trustees on the council - comes in the wake of the departure of another councillor, Nick Baker, who stormed out of last week's council meeting saying he and his family had been victims of a concerted campaign regarding his role as a trustee of the hall charity.

Bad feeling has festered in Hickling since the May parish elections when it became known for the first time that 10 of the 11 councillors were also trustees of the hall charity.

An independent inquiry and report by auditor Eric Lindo subsequently criticised them for making crucial decisions on the scheme - including transfering �144,000 to the charity and drawing down a loan of �180,000 - without declaring interests at council meetings.

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In one of the latest resignation letters, council chairman Sandra Clarke is criticised for the 'reprehensible' way she allowed a verbal attack to continue on her predecessor, Mrs Tallowin, during public question time at last week's meeting; the letter states the intention of reporting the incident to the standards monitoring officer at North Norfolk District Council.

Those resigning also accused the new leaders of the council, elected in May, of 'keeping them out of the loop' and leaving them 'feeling like a councillor in name only'.

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They say the current chairman and her supporters have continued to put obstacles in the way of the completion of the hall, due to open in December, by failing to meet a legal obligation to fund the construction.

The row centres on the amount the council should have paid out in its second instalment; the hall committee insists it should have been �110,000, but the council is adamant it has followed the terms of the contract in deducting �25,000 for professional fees it paid out on behalf of the charity.

Richard Cook, the hall charity's chairman, said: 'As trustees we have a legal obligation to protect our finances and we expect the parish council to pay what it owes us. The matter is now with our solicitors although we have issued a letter to the parish council offering them a last chance to pay.'

Mr Baker said the ongoing row was particularly sad because there had been so many positive developments ahead of the hall opening.

'The vast majority of people in the village are behind the hall and many have given up time to help us get the new play area up and running,' he said.

Mrs Clarke denied the suggestion the council was hindering the completion of the hall and said: 'We have paid them the money that appeared in the paperwork and our clerk checked with the National Association of Local Councils which agreed it was the right amount.'

She said the council simply did not have the money to pay the extra �25,000 and stuck by her prediction made at last week's council meeting that it would add up to �50 a household to the parish precept.

Mrs Clarke said she felt the public had a democratic right to speak at meetings, adding that she had given Mrs Tallowin the right to reply.

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