Councillors clash as New Forest council tax bill agreed

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New Forest District Council’s Appletree Court HQ in Lyndhurst

THE annual council tax will rise by £71 in April to hit just over £1,836 for an average Band D property in the New Forest.

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The total bill was settled on Monday night when the Conservative-controlled New Forest District Council voted through the final portion of the charge.

For 2020/21 the demand will include £178.36 from NFDC – a £5 increase – in addition to further amounts from the county and parish/town councils, and the police and fires services.

The debate at NFDC’s Appletree Court HQ in Lyndhurst saw leader Cllr Barry Rickman applauded by fellow Tories for announcing a 2% pay rise for council workers from April, ahead of national negotiations, with a promise to increase it if a higher settlement is agreed later.

Cllr Rickman focussed on housing with plans for a new council shared-ownership housing scheme, which will go to the ruling cabinet in April, and 18 new affordable homes proposed at a site in Moores Close, New Milton.

New Forest council tax
Cllr Barry Rickman (right) presents the budget next to deputy leader Cllr Edward Heron

Spending worth £45m was planned over the next three years for new homes, he said, following the delivery of 55 new council dwellings in Totton last year, and 23 in Ringwood by the end of March. A sum of £11m will go on council house maintenance and upgrades.

There are also plans for NFDC to build a new industrial estate in Ringwood, he announced, as part of its property investment strategy. Spending of £31,000 will go on replacing CCTV cameras.

Cllr Rickman highlighted £1.2m of planned spending on open space and transportation projects in 2020/21, £2.2m of disabled facilities grants, and a £773,000 government grant to address homelessness, helping to fund six new temporary homeless units.

Cllr Rickman said: “I an incredibly proud to present a balanced budget for 2020/21 that is investing in services, investing in council priorities and is investing in the New Forest district.”

He backed ongoing plans to offer management of the five public leisure centres to a private group, which he said was about “increasing physical activity and sustainability in the long term”.

Continued below…


Wheelie bins hint

DURING his speech Cllr Rickman nodded towards “more modern collection methods” as he revealed there had been 4,000 responses to NFDC’s consultation on changing the household waste system.

As reported in the A&T, the authority has not ruled out the introduction of wheelie bins, which divide opinion among residents. Some see them as more convenient and hygienic than bags, and others as unwieldy eyesores.

Cllr Rickman told the meeting: “Arguably the most visible service that this council delivers is the collection of household waste and recycling.

“Our recent consultation has received approximately 4,000 responses highlighting that it is services and not councils which are important to people.

“We need to do more to improve our recycling rates, and if more modern collection methods can be implemented this will make a key contribution to the council achieving this outcome.”

A draft waste strategy will be written from the consultation, which is now closed to comments. NFDC said it is too soon to say what service changes there would be and when.


 

The budget debate was the first since the local elections in May last year in which the Tories regained power but with a majority reduced to 46 over the Liberal Democrat opposition.

Lib Dem leader Cllr David Harrison said climate change should be the priority, and attacked the Tories for voting down his group’s previous attempt to declare a “climate emergency”, similar to Hampshire County Council and the national park authority.

“This council should declare a climate emergency. Failure to do so leaves you in the position of fiddling while Australia burns and our towns and villages flood,” he said.

He proposed using reserves to allocate £100,000 for a climate change officer with spending power, £40,000 to a discount bus scheme for young people, and unspent Brexit preparation funds to local food banks.

New Forest council tax
New Forest Liberal Democrat leader Cllr David Harrison (left)

“Ten years of austerity, operating with about £6m less from our general fund, limits choice about services we provide,” he said, and he called for the scrapping of the public leisure centres management “privatisation” plan.

Tory deputy leader Cllr Edward Heron hit back at the Lib Dems, saying: “They are more about making headlines than doing things for our residents, which is what a good administration does and what we do.”

Tory Cllr Ian Murray welcomed the shared ownership scheme as helping young people secure housing, but Lib Dem Cllr Jack Davies accused the administration of allowing developers to gain too much power locally.

The Tories easily won the budget and council tax votes, with Cllr Rickman declaring: “I’m proud to present this without headlines and gimmicks. This is not about pick and mix – this is about being in it for the long run.”

New Forest council tax
How much will you pay? The New Forest council tax rates for 2020/21

There was a moment of laughter in the chamber as NFDC chair Cllr Allan Glass, a Tory, mistakenly voted with the Lib Dems before correcting himself.

The result means total council tax bills in the New Forest will range from as little as £1,163.44 for a Band A home in Exbury and Lepe to £3,755.34 for a Band H property in Totton and Eling.

Hampshire County Council’s majority share of a Band D bill is £1,286.28. Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane has increased the force’s portion by £10 to £211.46. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority is demanding £69.06, a rise of £1.99.

The final part of the New Forest charge is from the 37 town and parish councils whose Band D average is up £4.02 to £71.03.

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