Council tax freezes as South Norfolk Council commits to major investments

Long Stratton, Norfolk. Long Stratton High Street ANL-140730-104504001
Long Stratton, Norfolk. Long Stratton High Street ANL-140730-104504001

South Norfolk Council’s portion of the council tax bill will be frozen for the seventh time in eight years, as the council commits to investing more in commercial developments, market towns, broadband and public infrastructure.

The 2015/2016 bill for the Band D taxpayer in the district will remain at £130.68, with the council confirming during its full meeting on Monday that reserve funds were not required to finance the freeze.

John Fuller, South Norfolk Council leader, claimed the council could afford the freeze having grown to “a position of financial strength” since the Conservatives took majority control from the Liberal Democrats in 2007.

In his speech to the full council, he stated: “The Lib Dems were on a path to make South Norfolk one of the weakest councils. We have made it one of the strongest.

“In the eight years that have followed, the strength of this council has improved beyond recognition.”

Cllr Fuller reiterated the council’s plans to pump as much as £8 million into new property developments and around £4 million into improvements across three leisure centres, while also outlining a proposed £1.25 million investment towards delivering superfast broadband throughout the district over the coming years.

He added the council had put together a five-year land supply in order to finance critical infrastructure such as the development of the Long Stratton bypass, and said it would continue to invest in market towns like Diss and Harleston, including the refurbishment of public toilets.

In response to the budget outline, Cllr Trevor Lewis, the Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition at South Norfolk Council, questioned the logic behind the decision to invest millions into only two commercially-driven projects.

He told the Diss Express: “We find it to be questionable as to whether this is the business the council should be in.

“They are spending a lot on building development. All that has its merits and we don’t disagree that it’s the right direction of travel. But the fact is an awful lot of money is being committed to two major projects that depend on commercial profits, and the council is not always great at making commercial profits.”

Cllr Lewis also expressed his disappointment that the Liberal Democrats’ suggested amendments to the budget, which included diverting £200,000 from the toilet refurbishments towards capital investments in community facilities, and creating a separate fund for promoting south Norfolk tourism, were both turned down at Monday’s meeting.

“I accept commercial investment of funds, but betting the farm on just two projects is very courageous, to say the least,” he added.

The local elections are set to take place later this year on Thursday, May 7, the same day as the next general election.