The Council Tax bill residents of Lewes will be getting this week will contain an additional line from Lewes District Council for special expenses for open spaces in Lewes Town.
The Band D rate is £66. So the total charge for the delivery by the district and town councils of local services for Lewes town will be £195, a net increase of more than 60 percent.
The playing fields in Lewes are used by people from across the district. Some 5,000 people from the coastal towns enjoyed the Mumfords concert on the Convent Field last year.
Lewes Rugby Club provides the only facilities in the district for junior and ladies’ rugby, and players from a wide area play for the men’s teams.
Malling Recreation Ground is the home of AC Ringmer.
While the cost of each open space is charged to town residents, the income from the town’s other assets like parking is not taken into account. Indeed LDC plan to pocket the £38,000 income from the Mountfield Road Car Park which belongs to a Trust and not to the district while charging all the costs of the ground to the people of Lewes.
An annual charge of nearly £200 for nice-to-have, non-statutory services is unreasonable
and unsustainable. Better off residents in the historic core of Lewes may be able to afford the increase. But for my neighbours in an estate on the edge of the town, this will be one more rise in the cost of living. Pay has been stationary in the public sector while many in the private sector have lost jobs and have had to accept lower paid zero hours contracts to stay employed.
The Bank of England may have spied green shoots of recovery, but people in Landport and Malling are still relying on food banks.
Lewes Town Council is keen to re-acquire, through devolution, all the open spaces confiscated from the Borough in 1974. But, first it needs to take a long hard look at the all assets it owns and how it delivers services, because frankly council taxpayers can’t afford them the way they are delivered now.
Local government at county and district level has been forced to improve productivity by shrinking central government grants. It’s now the turn of the parish level to find new, more efficient ways of working.
If the town has to reabsorb assets, management by the town council should be the last option considered.
There are fine examples in the town of community groups managing the Pells Pool, the Priory ruins and Lewes FC. Why not others? A proper review of the options needs to be considered for each site and, the council needs to clearly identify its objectives when taking ownership, including its financial objectives.
Perhaps, too, the town council could consider other ways of using the Lewes Town Hall.
Built to a standard fit for a great Northern industrial town in the glory days of Empire, it probably costs the town £250,000 a year. Properly used, the town hall should be able to generate money, rather than being a burden on the tax payer. We can’t afford to invest enough in its maintenance. It looks shabby. The acoustics are terrible. Perhaps we should be looking for a commercial partner prepared to invest substantially in upgrading the building to a 21st
century standard fit for the principal town in the National Park?
Why are we making this pitch to readers of the Sussex Express rather than direct to the council? We think this is a significant debate that should involve the community as well as elected members.
Cllr John Stockdale
Cllr Amanda Dean
Lewes District and Town