ENTERPRISING dales residents could breathe new life into a rural community hall under budget proposals being considered by councillors next week.

The ground floor of Stanhope Town Hall could be opened up to new businesses under a Biz Fizz initiative encouraging people to work for themselves.

Companies starting up could rent space as and when they needed it, while business support and reception facilities would be available.

Wear Valley District Council also plans to refurbish the first floor hall and stage, which is one of Weardale's biggest venues.

Sue Dawson, the council's head of regeneration, said the initiative had worked well in other parts of the country.

She said: "The town hall's ground floor is hardly used, but a community appraisal found that there was a lot of support for the first-floor facility.

"This is a way of making the whole building viable and encourage new businesses at the same time."

A budget report before the council's policy and strategic development committee recommends a council tax rise of 2.95 per cent.

Council house rents would go up by five per cent, with charges for services such as burials, sports facilities and market stalls also rising.

There would be £20 charges for clearing rats and mice from houses and a fee for collecting bulky items such as washing machines.

Parking charges would be introduced in Crook and fees in Bishop Auckland would rise, although £92,000 would be spent on improvements and £100,000 would go towards regenerating the town centre.

Other improvement schemes are planned in Eldon Lane and West Auckland under a capital programme, which includes updating council houses and replacing play equipment.

Director of central resources Gary Ridley hopes to create a number of jobs with the help of outside grants, including some in benefit administration.

He said the council had worked hard to cut costs and had one of best council tax records in the area.

A meeting of the policy and strategic development committee will be held in the council chamber on Thursday, at 5pm.