A PARISH council chairman has defended his authority’s decision to increase its precept by nearly half.

Andrew Sowerby, chairman of Pittington Parish Council, near Durham City, said Pittington’s village hall was losing Durham County Council funding and the parish had agreed to donate £5,000 a year to the cause.

This will help the village hall association take over running the much-needed community facility itself, he said.

Loading article content

Councillor Sowerby, an independent, was speaking after Labour's Bill Kellett, who he succeeded as chairman last year, criticised the tax hike.

He accused his predecessor of holding a grudge and having an axe to grind, claims denied by Mr Kellett.

Mr Kellett said: “It’s acceptable to give £5,000 to the village hall.

“I support that. I was on the village hall committee for nearly 30 years.

“But there is other spending that’s unnecessary.”

Mr Kellett said the parish was also spending money on allotments, buying land and increasing its clerk’s working hours.

“This is not a grudge. I think I reflect the opinions of a lot of people in the village who want to know more,” he added.

Coun Sowerby said the tax rise had been discussed at a public meeting, which had been “quite supportive”.

“We didn’t want to increase the precept, but it’s to save the village hall, the soul of the community.

“The decision wasn’t taken lightly.”

The 48.3 per cent tax rise will mean category A householders paying £33.48 for their parish council services, up from £22.57 last year.

Coun Sowerby said there had been a 45 per cent rise the previous year, also to support the village hall.

The £5,000-a-year donation will continue for three years until the next local elections, after which the new council could review the situation, he added.

Durham County Council, which takes the vast majority of council tax, raised its charge by 1.99 per cent this year – the most possible without triggering a local referendum.

Pittington’s rise did not require a referendum due to the small sum raised.