Council tax frozen, but town faces harsh financial future

COUNCIL tax has been frozen at the same level as last year.

The move was made this week by councillors at their annual budget meeting on Wednesday.

During the meeting, a proposal by the Tory group to reduce the rate by one per cent was thrown out.

The total council tax bill for a Band D property in Hastings stands at £1,614.43, with Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) portion of the bill remaining £235.85.

The rest of the bill is made up of payments towards Sussex Police, East Sussex County Council and the fire service, which have also remained frozen at last year’s rates.

Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of HBC, said the authority had decided to accept the one-off council tax freeze grant being offered by the Government.

He warned that Hastings faced a tougher budget from next year, as it will lose its £2 million transitional grant given to 12 of the poorest councils in the country. The money has been provided to help poorer towns cope better with Government cuts in public spending.

Despite the severe financial constraints facing the council, Cllr Birch announced the authority was prepared to forego extra income from car parking charges by freezing the rates.

He said: “Town centres and the retail industry are in a fragile state at the moment. So for the coming year we will not raise our car park charges because of the fragile nature of our town centre economy.

“We want to ensure that the retail part of Hastings can come through this challenging period. But we will have to see where we are in 12 months time.”

Tory councillor Matthew Beaver said the continued regeneration for Hastings was vital and emphasised cross-party support for it.

He said: “These cuts to the people of Hastings and St Leonards are deep and if not properly managed, will halt some of the regeneration this town has experienced in the previous decade.”

Cllr Birch announced that the authority will be providing £50,000 a year towards improving the street scene in the town centre, such as paving.

There will also be £250,000 this year to compulsory purchase empty and derelict homes in the town.

The council is also setting aside £500,000 this year towards refurbishing its factory units to make them more attractive to potential investors.

There will be £250,000 to support campaigners fighting to restore Hastings pier, as well as £200,000 set aside to compulsory purchase and then knock down the derelict Malvern pub.

The council is also spending £10,000 to assist with the Olympic Torch celebrations in July and £5,000 for a guide on the disability access of shops, cafes and bars.