Budget passed with £25k verge protection amendment
- Credit: Archant
The annual budget has been passed by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council with an additional verge protection amendment.
At the meeting of the full council on Monday, the Lib Dem group proposed to set aside £25,000 to parking services to protect verges outside normal hours and increase enforcement, which was agreed to by Conservative and Labour councillors.
But a further Lib Dem amendment to increase social housing by setting aside around 200 garages and turning them into homes, and appointing a climate change officer was rejected by both the opposition and controlling group.
Cllr Paul Zukowskyj said before the meeting: “Too many of our residents are in desperate need of council housing. There are thousands on the list, but only a few homes for them come up each month.
"We need more. The council has built a few, but their ambition to really make a difference is limited.
“The garages the council owns are ideal redevelopment sites, not least because only 80 per cent of them are actually used. Every current tenant can be offered an alternative and our young people will get somewhere to live.
"The council’s finances will be improved, litter-strewn concrete pads will be replaced with homes and each one developed means one less home needed on our precious Green Belt.
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"Densification like this also has the potential to boost our town centres, so the upsides are huge and the downsides barely register. The only question is, why didn’t the council do this years ago?”
But Labour members explained they were a little puzzled by this push from the Lib Dems, including Cllr Lynn Chesterman.
"They're the same people who are moaning we are concreting over too much of our urban area, particularly around Peartree," Cllr Chesterman said.
The sentiment was also expressed by Cllr Lucy Musk, Labour, who claims the same party proposing the amendment have rejected the conversion of garages at development management committee and this would again happen down the line.
"Yes, a lovely win for your leaflets for sure," she said. "This is not a budget item."
Cllr Duncan Bell, deputy leader, a Conservative, said he agreed with the idea in principle and outlined that the council has done so previously. He also said that he was "happy" putting an aspiration into the council's asset strategy and if councillors have any ideas on what garages could be converted they should propose them.
"We cannot build a budget on wishful thinking," he added. "It would be highly irresponsible to use a highly uncertain income stream to fund a [huge] cost."
Misgivings were also raised about the climate change officer role with Cllr Fiona Thomson, a Conservative, maintaining that the council's climate focus is done by the director and head of planning and additionally a climate change officer group.
"We shouldn't be looking to create new posts now when there is a modernisation review ongoing," she added. "And in the middle of a pandemic."
She acknowledged there was more they had to do and pointed the Lib Dems to a climate change report done by the council.
Cllr Max Holloway, Labour, said he was "sympathetic" but did not know what it might achieve and how it would be different to the roles at the council currently.
But he said he was "happy to put on the agenda for the next climate change meeting" and added there would be training for all council staff on being more climate-conscious.
The budget vote was a tie with 22 opposition councillors made up of Labour, who had some absent members, and Lib Dems voting against and 22 Conservatives voting for it. Mayor Cllr Roger Trigg broke the tie with his vote for the budget.
As part of this budget, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council will increase ticket prices at a range of leisure outlets.
The biggest increase is at the Campus West Cinema is for ‘family films’ – with tickets increasing from £4 to £5 through the week – and £5 to £6 at weekends.
According to budget proposals, the element of the council tax for an average Band D property levied by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council would increase by 1.97 per cent – which is £4.23 a year.
That means the borough council element of the bill for a Band D property would increase to £219.15.
Ultimately council tax bills received by residents will be much higher – including additional levies set by the county council and the police commissioner, as well as – in some areas – parish councils too.