Chelmsford set to hike fees and charges

Fees and charges across the board – including car parking and leisure services – are set to increase in Chelmsford as the city council battles to manage its growing budget deficit.

The council’s plans to bring in more cash to its coffers comes after the Government announced it is allowing district councils in England to increase council tax by three per cent a year in April 2023, up from a previous cap of two per cent.

This additional increase would bring in just £1,700 a week (or £90,000 a year) for Chelmsford City Council – which council leader Stephen Robinson says is insufficient to pay even for the rise in diesel need for its bin lorries.

The council says it had cost an extra £480,000 this year to just heat the swimming pools at Riverside and South Woodham Ferrers – double the amount from last year – and an extra £300,000 to put diesel in bin lorries.

A finance report, which will be examined by councillors on December 7, has warned that without additional government help it is inevitable that the council will have to spend some of its emergency “rainy-day” reserves to get by next year.

However, the report warns that the council will need to maintain a robust reserve to manage future risks and that action to keep this fund from falling any further is advisable.

To help mitigate cost pressures Chelmsford City Council is considering at next week’s Full Council to increase fees and charges as part of a range of measures to close its budget gap, which was forecast in October to be around £7.9m for 2023/24.

While energy costs has hammered its finances large earners such as parking have severely decreased following changes to working patterns after the pandemic. In 2022/23 this is forecast to bring in £25,000 a week less than predicted.

Parking

Short-stay parking charges are set to be frozen in the council’s car parks from January 1, but the full-day charge at all long-stay car parks are set to increase by 50p.

The council’s Coval Lane car park, which is a short walk to the city’s train and bus stations, would also move into a higher banding, increasing the full-day charge there from £7 to £9.50. Evening charges would also be increased by 20p across all car parks and season ticket charges would go up by £50.

Leisure services

From January, it is being proposed that charges will be increased for pay-as-you-go activities, swim school subscriptions and ice rink charges – officers will formulate individual pricing and although many sessions will rise in price, most will not go up as much as inflation. Monthly memberships will not increase in January and will be reviewed as usual, for implementation in April.

Burial and cremation

It is proposed to increase crematorium charges in line both with inflation and the group average rate from £962.82 to £1,050, from January. Exclusive right of burial grave purchases, which are currently 32 per cent below the Essex average would also increase by an additional £145.00 to £1,590. Resident charges for interment of over-18s would also go up in line with the Essex sector average by £160 to £981.

Specialist and bulky waste collections

The council’s waste service, for the likes of electrical goods and furniture, such as cookers, washing machines and sofas, which has seen particularly acute increases in cost to the council, mainly due to fuel price rises, will from January. This will cost £20 for the first item and £40 for three items to be collected, up from £16 and £33 respectively.

Planning pre-application service

Chelmsford City Council’s pre-application planning advice service which allows applicants to share their proposals informally for comments and advice prior to submitting a formal planning application are set to increase. The fee for written advice is increasing from £68 to £98 and the fee for meeting with a planning officer is going up from £200 to £290.

Councillor Robinson said: “In some areas, such as our leisure centres and our waste collections, costs have increased so much over the last few months that we simply cannot soak this up any longer.

“All of our services, whether they are delivered to residents without charge, or a paid service like our leisure centres, are crucial to the functioning and wellbeing of our city. We’ll do everything we can to ensure that these are priced in line with other, similar facilities elsewhere, however, we have little option but to ask users of these paid services to take on some of the extra costs of keeping them going.

“The key thing for us in the coming months is to protect all the services we deliver because, much like our reserves, if they were to be cut, they’d be incredibly difficult to get back. We are an authority with a good track record of financial management and lucky to be in a better position than others who may have to make swingeing cuts. But make no mistake, funding crises are causing an existential crisis for councils across the country, and we are no different. We will do whatever we can to ensure that any price rises are fair.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter