Council votes to remove ‘open space’ charges from 2,700 properties in two wards

Bedford Borough Hall Bedford Borough council signage and entrance
Image: Bedford Independent

Homeowners in Great Denham and Kempston West can look forward to having an additional council charge removed within two years.

This followed a Bedford Borough Council committee saying that it has “no concerns” about the executive decision to remove council open spaces management fee charged to 2,700 properties in these wards.

The decision to remove this charge was taken in April by Bedford mayor, Tom Wootton, but Lib Dems claimed that this decision was “unreasonable and unfair”.

Arguments for and against the decision were heard at an extraordinary meeting of the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee last night (Tuesday, 14 May).

This followed a “call in” by five Lib Dem councillors, including the group’s leader, councillor Henry Vann (De Parys).

“This is not a partisan call in, this is not about party politics,” he said.

“[This] is about the deep unfairness of just offering this to a select group of houses and expecting others to pay.”

Councillor Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) said: “This decision before you is totally unreasonable and unfair.

“For the first time, the costs for one specific area only are to be paid for by all council tax players without any reciprocal approach, it’s a one-way street.”

Mayor Wootton said: “It’s all about fairness, about taxation and about being recognised for what is really happening here.

“[This charge] is raised on land owned by this borough council.

“This is the only place in the borough where this happens, there are loads of management charges, there are loads of stuff that goes on elsewhere.

“But this is the only place where this charge is raised.”

Lee Phanco, chief officer for assessment, application & business support, told the committee: “The transfer of ownership to the council was completed in November 2016.

“When the council accepted the transfer of the land it came with an obligation to maintain the land and the right to receive the annual sums which the owners of the property were required to pay as part of the title to their property.

“This is the only land owned by the borough where there is a specific requirement for property owners to make [such] a payment.”

Before the vote on option (a) –  that the committee has no concerns about the decision – committee member councillor Charles Royden (Lib Dem, Brickhill) said: “There are many questions which have been asked which have not been fully answered.

“There are many things which have not been understood by those people who have made the decisions.

“I think this overview and scrutiny committee has a right to see those questions answered properly.

“Unless these concerns are answered adequately this overview and scrutiny committee is not doing its job properly,” he said.

The votes for and against were tied, giving the committee chair, councillor Colleen Atkins (Labour, Harpur) the deciding vote.

“I think that going on what officers have said, which is that this is a different scenario to usual ones, that I will agree, I will vote in favour as well. In which case then option (a) has been adopted, and it is the resolution of this committee.”

The other options if the vote was lost were either to ask the executive to reconsider its decision, or to refer the decision to the next full council.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter