CHORLEY COUNCIL BUDGET 2020: council tax and climate change proposals revealed

Chorley Council is to invest half a million pounds in efforts to help tackle climate change.

The plan was revealed as the authority set its budget for the next financial year - which will see the borough’s share of council tax frozen. Minimum council tax payments for low income households will also be scrapped.

The decision to keep bills on hold came in spite of a predicted deficit facing the council of just over £3m within the next three years. Members heard that available funding was forecast to fall from £17m in 2016/17 to under £12m by 2022/23.

But deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, Peter Wilson, told a meeting of the full council that investment in income-generating projects - like the Market Walk shopping centre extension and Strawberry Fields digital office park - would play a large part in bridging the gap.

Chorley has set out its spending priorities - and the need to find savings

He said that residents could expect more of the same in what he described as an “ambitious” budget which would allow the council to invest in “creating jobs and identifying the needs of the community and addressing them” - not least on the environment.

“We can’t ignore climate change anymore - we know everyone has a role to play,” Cllr Wilson said.

“We’re going to invest in the green agenda, which will include planting one tree for every resident in this borough. That’s 116,000 trees which will make a huge contribution to improving air quality and carbon capture.

“We also want to address the issue of energy efficiency in the home - it reduces the need for output and tackles fuel poverty and the cost of living properties which need to be insulated and have better heating systems.”

The rest of the package includes an air quality assessment and an investigation into the use of renewable energy sources in the council’s assets and operations.

Other aspects of the Labour administration's investments plans see money directed towards the town’s traditional market, the borough’s outlying local centres and affordable housing. The district will also assume control of its bus station - which it already owns - from Lancashire County Council.

Opposition Conservative group leader Martin Boardman said that after “long debate” the party “generally supported the direction of travel” set out in the budget. However, his alternative proposals put forward slightly different spending priorities, including a £5 reduction in garden waste collection charges.

The party also set out plans for increased investment in a climate change officer, a fund to tackle social isolation among vulnerable and elderly residents and an extra £37,000 in support for the borough’s Youth Zone over and above the £113,000 already pledged by the council.

“Chorley Youth Zone is a huge success and offers a world of openings to young people,” Cllr Boardman said.

“It isn’t awareness [of it] that’s required, it’s actual travel to and from the [facility]. Our budget provides designated transport from rural areas - and even looks to support satellite youth zones.”

“We have also got a huge amount of unused retail space - it needs redeveloping to encourage people to live in the town centre. Young couples, professionals and families - they are the ones that will spend money in the town centre and will support the night-time economy,” he added.

Papers presented to the meeting identify £200,000 in savings from a recently-extended agreement to share more back office services with neighbouring South Ribble Council, as well as income of almost £1m from previous capital investments.

But that still leaves the authority £1.8m in savings to find within three years. The majority - £1.2m - is identified as coming from from further efficiency measures, whilst a retendering of its leisure services contract is expect to bring in £446,000.

The council has boosted its reserves to just over £9m and has a capital investment programme of £78m over the four years to 2022/23.

COUNCIL SPENDING PLANS

£2.7m - Westway playing fields - creation of sports complex

£2.5m - Chapel Street area, to improve the environmental quality, built environment and tenant mix by purchasing and re-letting properties

£1.6m - Astley Hall - improvements in hall and park

£1.5m - affordable housing, for the purchase and refurbishment of properties

£1m - refurbishment of Union Street offices

£500,000 - green agenda, including tree-planting and energy efficiency

£500,000 - local service centres

£400,000 - in the borough’s market, including new canopies and a refurbishment of the covered market.

CONSERVATIVE ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS

£100,000 - tailored support for businesses

£100,000 - outside exercise equipment for the elderly and multi-use games areas for the young in all rural areas which are currently without them

£80,000 - fund to support vulnerable and elderly residents, building on existing scheme of link workers

£50,000 - assessment of vacant commercial and office premises, with up to £2m capital investment to follow to convert them into residential properties

Extra £37,000 - Chorley Youth Zone, for provision of transport from outlying areas

Extra £20,000 - climate change officer