TAXING TIMES: Former town councillor Tom Deacon with clerk Michael King
TAXING TIMES: Former town councillor Tom Deacon with clerk Michael King

A FORMER councillor is calling on Barnard Castle’s civic leaders to abandon plans to bring areas of land under local control.

Tom Deacon said taxpayers will not benefit from the town council’s efforts to take over areas such as Scar Top and the Demensnes from Durham County Council. In a question submitted to councillors last week, Mr Deacon said the move amounted to double taxation, increasing the burden on residents. Any money saved by Durham County Council in transferring responsibility for the areas would be spent in other towns and villages, not the benefit of Barnard Castle, he said.

“I would ask Barnard Castle (town council) to cease their plans of taking over the various tracts of land,” he said.

“Barnard Castle Town Council will not manage them in a significantly better way than they are already managed by Durham County Council. The only difference is that the people of Barnard Castle will be paying significantly more for the benefit.”

Mr Deacon also accused the town council of “topping up” its reserve funds in recent years to cover the cost of managing the areas once they have been transferred. He called for a reduction in this year’s precept – the amount levied by the town council from residents to pay for its operation. However, councillors ignored Mr Deacon’s plea and agreed to increase the precept for 2019/20 by more than £8,000 compared to the current financial year.

It means the town council will levy £190,936 via the council tax, while the group’s total budget for 2019/20 will be £232,963. This means that residents in the band D will pay £104.50 towards the cost of the town council, up from £101.62. The budget was unanimously agreed without comment. The town council has already taken over responsibility for some areas of the town from Durham County Council, including the Scar Top play area and the management of Galgate greens.

Town clerk Michael King said efforts to reach agreement with the county council on the transfer of land at Scar Top and the Demesnes were ongoing, but progress was slow. In a written response to Mr Deacon’s comments, town mayor Cllr Sandra Moorhouse said the council’s floral and open spaces budget had been increased by £2,000 in 2017/18 in anticipation of the transfer of land.

“Following the delay in this process, the council subsequently resolved to reduce the budget in 2018/19,” she said.

“The £2,000 underspend is held in reserve to offset the costs of these transfers, once completed.” Cllr Moorhouse said public consultation in 2017 demonstrated “strong support” for the transfers.

“The town council sought the views of local tax payers before increasing its budget to fund these transfers and has not perpetuated that increase, but is holding the money in reserve to fund the costs of grounds maintenance once this occurs. In the current financial climate it is not known how any savings made by the county council would impact upon the standard of management of the Barnard Castle area, therefore, the town council continues to pursue transfer of these assets.”