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'Fighting fund' to challenge housing bids
Taxpayers in Chigwell will continue to contribute to a fund being stockpiled in a bid to block housing developments in the area.
Chigwell Parish Council last week announced that its council tax precept, the proportion of the annual bills used to finance its operations, will stay the same.
But it failed to mention that last year a promised ‘one-off payment’ of £60,000 was taken from households to create a so-called “fighting fund” as concerns rose about new housing schemes.
A total of 10,000 homes are set to be built in Epping Forest in the next 20 years, with some people fearing the loss of green belt land.
The fund was established following a request by the Chigwell Residents’ Association and saw the precept rise by 27 per cent to £295,000 in 2013/14.
David Miller, from Chigwell, writes a blog on public spending and questioned councillors about the precept rise at a meeting last week.
He said: “If the precept was raised for a one-off specific item of expenditure, then the council should now reduce the precept back to the 2012/13 level.
“If they don't, they will have effectively increased the precept by stealth to the sum of £60,000.
“It's the oldest trick in the book. Hike taxes one year then hope everyone forgets about it the next year, and suddenly the council has a lot more money to waste on vanity projects.”
Councillors said that none of the money had been spent, adding they were saving it to pay “experts” to help them limit the number of houses built under the Local Plan.
Councillor Leslie Wagland admitted that residents were told the extra payment would only last one year, but insisted the money was needed.
She said: “We need to have reports by experts and that is not going to be free. The community will expect us to do something.”
Councillor John Knapmann called the collection a “fighting fund”, saying that even with two years of money they would still need more.
“Actually, £100,000 does not go very far,” he said.
Eddie Bow, of the Chigwell Residents' Association, said: "It is about protecting the green belt land.
"People all over Epping Forest are anxiously waiting to find out where the housing will be built."