Opposition push for St Albans council budget ammendments

PUBLISHED: 12:45 12 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:45 12 February 2013

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council

Archant

THOUSANDS of pounds could be poured into local projects after the opposition groups on the district council defeated the ruling Tory group’s budget.

Among a raft of budget amendments which were pushed through was not to charge for the first three hours parking at Westminster Lodge in St Albans and remove the three hours free use of the Amenbury Lane car park by leisure centre users in Harpenden – two budget proposals which were highlighted in last week’s Herts Advertiser.

Opposition councillors also voted to provide £70,000 additional grants for the Centre for Voluntary Service and the council to support charities, not introducing increased car parking charges for the first hour in council car parks and protecting more grass verges from parked car damage.

There would also be money for specific projects to tackle mental health and obesity issues and positive action to deal with air quality at the Peahen Junction in St Albans city centre.

The amendments were proposed by the Lib Dem group and supported by Labour, Green and Independent councillors.

It will mean a delay in passing the council’s budget for 2013/14 with council leader, Julian Daly, having until tomorrow (Friday) to either decide not to object or refer the issue to another council meeting.

Lib Dem leader, Cllr Robert Donald, stressed that the package his group proposed, which would cost £600,000 plus, would not result in any increase in the district council’s share of council tax which would be frozen for the fifth year in succession.

He explained that funding the amendments would use money which had been earmarked to increase the council’s balances – its reserves – and asset maintenance programme rather than fall on council taxpayers.

Specifically referring to the asset maintenance programme, he told last week’s council budget meeting: “We think that at a time when people are struggling to survive day to day, to find jobs, to keep their business going, to keep healthy and their environment sustainable – they should come before improving our buildings. People first not buildings.”

Cllr Donald also stressed that the amendments would not delay the implementation of the budget as last week’s council meeting to set it had been held a month earlier than usual.

Cllr Daly said this week that he did not think it was particularly prudent to run down the council’s reserves explaining: “We have one of the lower end of reserves in the country.

“That is one worry and the other is that to find money for other things, they have removed money from the asset maintenance programme.”

He explained that was for the maintenance of areas like children’s playgrounds and crumbling buildings and he added: “One of the things we have recognised is that we have underspent on our estate and we need to put that right.”

n Opposition groups led by Labour were also successful in an amendment to the proposed rise in council housing rents. Instead of the 5.2 per cent proposed, it is now proposed to put it up by the rate of inflation at 3.1 per cent.

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CountryPhile

Recently we, as a family (minus two of the kids), visited The Lodge RSPB reserve in Sandy, Bedfordshire. I had never been before, which is perhaps amiss of me as a birdwatcher as it is the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB and only 45 minutes drive from home.

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