Shock £1m bill for National Park will lead to cuts

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NATURE: People taking part in the South Downs Trekathon
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LUNCHEON clubs, youth services and charities will lose out this year as a council is forced to hand over £1m to set up a National Park.

East Hampshire District Council is making £220,000 of service cuts after being told to pay £1.1m to set up the planning department of the new South Downs National Park.

Until recently, the council believed the cost would be paid for nationally, as promised by the previous government when former environment minister Hilary Benn announced the formation of the National Park in 2009.

The promise was made as set-up costs for other National Parks have been paid for nationally.

The huge payout means the council has struggled to balance its books in this year’s budget, racking up a deficit of £762,000.

Leaders are set to approve no increase in council tax, but there are a raft of cuts planned for services such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The rest of the shortfall is being paid from reserves.

Sandy Hopkins, the council’s chief executive, has written a strongly-worded letter to the Department for Communities and Local Government, disputing the payout.

She said: ‘It seems unfair that council tax payers in East Hampshire should have to suffer as a result of a government decision to establish the SDNP and pick up a large proportion of these costs.’

She warns that it will ‘seriously impact on services’.

East Hampshire leader Patrick Burridge told The News: ‘The £1.1m was a bolt out of the blue which nobody expected. It came as a huge shock to everyone.’

Twelves authorities in the National Park are having to pay out according to the population of the district, with Chichester and East Hampshire Councils picking up the highest tabs of £1.1m each.

The National Park Authority is based in Midhurst.

The payout means the council’s government grant will plunge from £6.2m last year to £3.9m this year.

Cllr Burridge added: ‘It’s a huge, huge cut. I am not aware of any other authority in the country that has suffered as badly as East Hampshire.’

The budget will not be formally approved until the council hears back from the government. An answer is due in early February.