Suffolk Bitesize: Our weekly council round-up
Mid Suffolk District Council’s decision to approve a full business case represented a big step forward for a massive business hub in Stowmarket costing over £18m.
Located in the heart of Gateway 14 business park, the new Skills and Innovation Centre had its full business case approved by the council’s cabinet.
Tuesday’s approval will see details for the 3,251 sqm centre being nailed down ahead of the council’s full council meeting, on January 25.
Cllr Richard Winch said: “We want to try and bring in a lot more innovative companies — it’s absolutely critical for shaping the future of Gateway 14.”
The project’s delivery bill, however, will come at no extra cost to residents, Cllr Winch explains, with funding coming partly from already earmarked business rates and Freeport seed capital — early-stage money from investors.
The scheme has existed since 2013, when it benefited those in most need by forgiving 91.5 per cent of council tax.
Since then, the council has made it easier for residents to apply for the reduction, which now sees just over 4,500 people benefit every year, as well as, in the last year, increased the maximum reduction to 100 per cent.
Following cabinet approval on Tuesday, the proposal to extend the scheme for another year will come before the full council on December 19.
Cllr Diane Hind said: “I hear of mothers who are feeding their children, or people who are saying they can either heat their houses or they can eat.”
Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils are having to be careful with money ahead of their budget announcements.
Both councils released their second-quarter financial statements which will inform how budget-setting is conducted in the new year.
While Babergh has seen an increase in its overspend, now at £703,000, Mid Suffolk continues to operate a surplus of over £2.8m.
Representatives for both councillors have said financial pressures will make next year’s budget difficult.
Babergh’s Cllr John Ward said: “It’s a very difficult position for local authorities at the moment but we will get there — we have to.”
Mid Suffolk’s Cllr Rachel Eburne added: “We still have to be very careful in how we spend money and ensure we are doing it in the best benefit for residents and businesses.”
The hit came as a result of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement which announced, among other measures, an increase in the maximum living wage.
This has set SCC back £5.4m, nearly two months after it announced reserves could be £37.9m worse off in the next financial year.
Council leader, Matthew Hicks, said: “Like many councils, we are having look at all available options to balance our budget.
“We have to consider all options and it seems highly likely that difficult decisions will be needed in the new year.”
As the next financial statement is set to come out soon, issues in children’s social care and home-to-school transport will come to the fore.
The project in Badley near Stowmarket would have seen 14,000 homes powered for 40 years, but it was rejected on the grounds of heritage impact and the lack of a noise assessment.
But Michelle Howley, on behalf of Elgin Energy, said a pre-application had never identified the need for such an assessment, with the company always providing one when required.
She said: “We believe that if this noise issue hadn’t been brought up, we would’ve had a recommendation for approval — we were a bit disappointed.”
Although councillors were largely in support of the development, they ultimately decided to lead with the officer’s recommendations for refusal.