SnOasis inquiry 'could hit taxpayers'

A COUNCIL leader has warned residents they could face increases in council tax bills of up to 12% if his authority has to pay a £500,000 bill to host a public inquiry into the £320 million winter sports complex SnOasis.

By John Howard

A COUNCIL leader has warned residents they could face increases in council tax bills of up to 12% if his authority has to pay a £500,000 bill to host a public inquiry into the £320 million winter sports complex SnOasis.

The development, earmarked for Great Blakenham near Ipswich, is one of East Anglia's biggest development projects for years.

The plans include a main 475-metre long ski slope, golf course, ice rink, casino, nightclub, hotel, railway station, and homes.


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Despite getting Mid Suffolk District Council support, the Government has decided to call the matter in for a public inquiry, expected to last for 20 days from January 23 in Ipswich's Corn Exchange, with local sessions held nearer people's homes at venues including Great Blakenham village hall.

The project has attracted both support from those who welcome benefits to the local economy and the new jobs, but fierce opposition from those who fear increased traffic, light pollution and claim the complex will be a scar on the Suffolk landscape.

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Tim Passmore, Conservative leader of the district council, said the costs of legal counsel, barristers, consultants, officers' time and hiring the venue could result in a bill of £500,000, although it may be less.

The exact amount a 12% rise in council tax would add to people's bills was unclear last night, and council officers hope any rise could be kept far lower.

Mr Passmore is furious that having made their decision on a nationally significant development, the council now has to go through all the costs of such a large inquiry.

He said: “We know lots of inquiries go ahead on a local basis and we plan for them, but we do not expect to have to pay for this.

“GO-East called it in and it is not fair that we should fund the costs of an inquiry of this scale. The total we raised from planning application fees was £11,000 and we have spent a lot more already on this.

“A 12% hike on council tax is not trying to be alarmist, it is far better to put this out in the open, this is the potential of what it could be, the top end of the limit, but some public inquiries go on for ages and it would be misleading to pretend it would be a lot les than this.

“We plan for short hearings, but we can't plan ahead for this. We have had to lose staff already, we are a lean organisation, keeping costs down, making services better value for money. We do not now want a huge debt stuck round our neck because of a Government planning inquiry.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman, whose Secretary of State Ruth Kelly MP ordered the closer examination of the SnOasis application, said that the call-in was a long standing procedure for a case deemed to be of more than local significance, and is only used in a few cases.

He said: “It is right that we use the inquiry process to enable close scrutiny of issues, so that a careful, informed decision can be made by the Secretary of State.”

And he said that the department is not aware that the cost of local authority representations at inquiries is especially burdensome.

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