Debate over climate emergency officer and evening parking charges dominates council budget meeting

Chichester District Council
Chichester District Council

Chichester District Council spent more than an hour debating amendments to its budget and ‘no time whatsoever’ agreeing to raise council tax by £5.

The rise, which will take the district’s portion of a band D bill to £160.81, was agreed at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday.

The budget figures, which include a net budget of £13.8m, had been given the nod by members of the cabinet last month but needed to be rubber-stamped by the full council.

The majority of the time, though – more than an hour – was spent debating amendments tabled by Adrian Moss (Lib Dem, Fishbourne).

Mr Moss asked for the council to consider taking on a climate emergency officer for three years, and dropping evening parking charges in the Northgate and New Park Centre car parks, also for three years.

After a lengthy back-and-forth, his amendments were approved, and leader Tony Dignum said they would be given due consideration.

It was at this point, as the meeting moved on to the final budget vote, that one councillor called out: “Is this council accepting that we spend an hour debating an amendment and no time whatsoever on a £5 increase in our rates?”

There were murmurs of agreement from some before it was pointed out that opinions had been called for before the amendments were tabled.

The 3.21 per cent council tax rise comes to less than 10p per week and was described by Peter Wilding, cabinet member for corporate services, as ‘modest’.

Mr Wilding explained that the money would help to plug the gap left by ever-decreasing government funding – a problem faced by councils up and down the country.

Added to the county council’s increase of more than £65 and the Sussex Police rise of £24, the average council tax bill will be almost £95 higher from April.

Mr Wilding said the council’s reserves were ‘robust and healthy’, standing at more than £39m in total at the end of March 2018.

After the meeting Jonathan Brown, Lib Dem councillor for Southbourne, said: “I am really pleased that there was so much support for the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for the district to fund a dedicated climate emergency officer.

“I hope that the cabinet will bear that support in mind when they decide whether to proceed with this as well as the seriousness of the climate emergency we are facing.

“Not only must we do our bit in the national - indeed international - battle to dramatically reduce and reverse carbon emissions, but there are so many opportunities we must take to protect and enhance local biodiversity. We will be holding the cabinet’s feet to the fire on this one.”