LYME Regis councillors have earmarked a budget of £25,000 a year to help tackle environmental issues after they were told to “get real” about the climate crisis.
The decision came as infighting in the council chamber was blamed for slowing down progress on the climate and environmental emergency, declared by the council in 2019.
Cllr Belinda Bawden, a keen climate activist and chair of the council’s Environment Committee, urged her colleagues to follow the lead of neighbouring town councils and allocate funds to address the climate emergency.
Bridport, Dorchester and Weymouth councils all ring-fenced £100,000 after declaring a climate and environmental emergency.
Cllr Bawden said the reason Lyme Regis had not yet done the same was because of the recent behaviour issues and fall-outs in the council chamber.
Speaking during a budget-setting debate at this week’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting, she said: “The reason we haven’t is because of all the behaviour issues that have been going on and we took a while to set up our Environment Committee but I think we should do it; we should earmark £100,000.”
“I say £100,000 because that’s what other councils who have much lower incomes than us have dedicated to their climate action plans.
“I am not waiting until next year’s budget setting process; we made a commitment in July 2019 that we were declaring a climate and environmental emergency and either we’re going to do it or we’re not.
“We cannot do it by continually voting against things like £150 for the One Planet Working Group to function – you guys voted against that.
“We’re either serious about this or we’re not. The world is serious about the climate and environmental emergency and we’ve got to get real about it as well.”
Cllr Michaela Ellis, who was chairing the meeting, said the council was taking action and bearing in mind environmental issues when making decisions.
Cllr Bawden said she was not referring to the council’s own operational net zero plan, which had already been agreed, but about how the council could help town to become carbon neutral.
“If the town council doesn’t help the town reach net zero who is going to do it?” she asked.
“We’ve got the expertise here, we’ve got the funds, we just don’t have the political will so either we’re going to do it or not.
“It’s going to come down in legislation at some point anyway; the sooner we start helping and advising the community on what they can do the better.
“There’s lots of things we can be doing but the fact that we’ve been infighting means it hasn’t come through in a more timely fashion.
“So far, just asking for small amounts here and there, I’ve given up the will to live in terms of asking.
“I’m hoping that with most of us now having done the Carbon Literacy training, and having come through the other side of COP26, we should realise that this is urgent and we need to do something.”
It was agreed to earmark £25,000 a year to climate issues for the remainder of this council term, which ends in 2024.
2022/23 budget highlights
Lyme Regis Town Council is currently in the process of setting the budget for the 2022-2023 financial year.
This predicts income of £1,783,384 and expenditure of £1,394,394, creating a surplus of £388,990.
Officers said they have adopted a “prudent approach” to the 2022-23 budget, with known income only included and any speculative income excluded.
However, the figures above do not include the council’s objectives for the year (see below), which are expected to cost a total of £321,500 and take the surplus for the year down to £68,500.
This money will be used to boost the council’s reserves, which are prudently estimated to stand at £966,000 at the end of the current financial year – £120,000 more than budgeted for.
The council objectives for 2022/23 include:
- Lighting columns renewal – £80,000
- Asset management review – £10,000 Replacement cadet hut, currently used as the base for outside workforce – £100,000
- Lister Gardens amenities’ hut replacement – £25,000
- Mule (vehicle) replacement – £15,0008
- Cemetery chapel roof repairs – £10,000
- Enhanced town bus service – £13,000 Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – £12,000
- Jubilee Pavilion water ingress repairs – £50,000
- Residents’ shoppers’ permit – £5,000
- Relaunch of the Gateway Card – ££1,500
Council tax precept
Councillors have agreed to hold the council tax precept [the total annual amount the town council receives from the full council tax bill] at same level of £132,779 for the 2022/23 year – the equivalent of £64.41 a year for a Band D property.
Cllr Richard Doney has now proposed twice that the precept be scrapped altogether for one year to give something back to residents following a challenging 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic.
His proposal has failed on both occasions, with councillors expressing concerns that they would face backlash when the precept was reintroduced in 2023/24, similar to that the government experienced when it stopped its £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit payments in October.
The town clerk has also previously warned councillors that the government may introduce a council tax precept cap, and if the precept was scrapped it could be capped at zero for future years.
The council increased the precept by 10 per cent last year – bringing in extra income of just under £13,000 – having held it at the same level for the previous 10 years. The precept remains relatively low compared to neighbouring areas.
Discounts for residents
Instead of scrapping the precept as a reward for residents, councillors previously recommended that they could increase the discount offered on beach hut bookings, weddings in the Guildhall and mini golf charges to those with a residents’ Gateway Card, from 10 per cent to 50 per cent, as well as introducing improved car parking permits for residents.
However, at this week’s meeting, finance manager Mark Russell warned members that the increased discount would result in a £15,200 loss to the council on beach hut bookings.
Mr Russell said this was a rough calculation purely based on the number of Gateway Card holders who currently book beach huts, and did not take into consideration a potential increase in residents booking that the higher discount may attract.
Councillors felt that the potential loss was too high and agreed not to increase the discount to 50 per cent on beach hut bookings. However, they will be going ahead with the increased discount on Guildhall weddings and mini golf charges.
A new shoppers parking permit will also be introduced, meaning those who already have a residents’ concessionary permit will be able to park in any town council-owned car park (Monmouth Beach, Cabanya and Woodmead Road) free of charge for two hours at any time of the day, any time of the year.
As residents can already park for free during the winter, this will effectively mean they can use the nee permit between Easter and October.