Big relief as councils’ £1m bill for National Park set up is slashed

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Cllr Hannah Hockaday

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THE government has cut the amount councils must hand over to pay for the South Downs National Park by 40 per cent.

Luncheon clubs, youth services and charities would have suffered if East Hampshire District Council had been forced to pay £1.1m to set up the planning department of the National Park.

But the government has now agreed to cut that figure by £460,000 meaning only £622,000 will be deducted from the council’s government grant – which had already been reduced by a quarter from the previous year.

Chichester District Council has had it’s outlay reduced from £1.1m to £624,000

It follows a meeting by East Hampshire leader Patrick Burridge and the East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds with Bob Neill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to try to get the decision overturned. They were supported by the National Park Authority.

The decision to make local authorities stump up for the set up costs for the National Park came as a bolt out of the blue after the previous government said the costs would be borne nationally. Council leaders feared it would lead to them facing a huge budget deficit.

Cllr Burridge said: ‘We went to see the minister and put our case forcefully to him. We are delighted to find out that he has clearly understood and accepted our argument and for that we thank him.

‘It is worth remembering that government grant is still cut by well over one quarter, nevertheless this measure of relief is both very welcome and significant.’

Twelve local authorities which fall within the National Park are having to pay out according to population size. They have all now had their share reduced. They must each provide a delegated planning service for it from April 1.

Council tax in East Hampshire looks set to be frozen but there are a raft of cuts expected, including the grant to Citizens Advice Bureau. The rest of the shortfall is being paid for from reserves.

The budget will be confirmed at the full council meeting on February 24.