INDEX July 30, 1987.
Judges concede Waltham Forest's 62 pc rise

Councillors demand end to 'vicious' rate protest

Labour councillors in Waltham Forest yesterday called for an end to a hate campaign against them, including threatening phone calls, over a 62 per cent rate rise.

The plea came after ratepayers lost an action in the High Court claiming that the rise was "irrational, unreasonable and illegal."

Mr Bill Dennis, deputy leader of the Labour-controlled council in east London, said:

" Councillors have received phone calls in the night saying their wives and daughters will be raped. They have been sent presents of wreaths, and coffins. It has been pretty vicious."

Mr Martin Baxter, chairman of the Waltham Forest ratepayers' action group, which took the council to court, said:

" There are some idiots out there. " I am personally worried about what these extremists will do now that we have lost the case.

" They may be members. We have 20,000 members, and we don't know everybody. They may do something silly. I totally deplore any unlawful action taken."

In the High Court, Lord Justice Glidewell, sitting with Mr Justice Schiemann, said they acknowledged the strong arguments put forward by the ratepayers against the rise, but the court could not say that the

decision on March 10 to impose it was irrational.

The judges also rejected the argument that We council had failed to comply with its legal duty to consult properly its commercial and industrial ratepayers.

Lord Justice Glidewell said the ratepayers had condemned the consultation that did take place as a " charade " but it could not be regarded as such simply because the ratepayers had failed to get what they wanted -- a rate reduction.

During a five-day hearing this month the ratepayers argued that the council -- which has now been rate-capped by the Government-- acted irrationally by failing to take into account the "chaotic" effect that a 62 per cent rise would have on the borough, including the severe restrictions on spending which would follow inevitable rate-capping.

They also argued that the councillors wrongly put their commitment to local Labour Party election manifesto promises -- to improve services and avoid redundancies -- before the fiduciary duty they owed to their ratepayers.

The Labour group, it was alleged, had also allowed itself to be dictated to on its ratemaking policy by the Local Government Committee -- a Waltham Forest body including among its members trade union representatives and Labour activists.

But the Judges rejected all the allegations and refused to quash the rate.

The ratepayers' action group, which is considering whether to appeal, was ordered to pay the legal costs of the case estimated by council officials to be as high as £100.000.

Mr. Neil Gerrard, council leader, welcomed the court ruling, but said :" I feel sorry for some of the people who have been persuaded to put their money into an action which, from the beginning was almost certain to be a loser."

More than £85,000 was collected to fund the ratepayers' actions.

A petition against the rate rise had been signed by 23,500 people and there had been mass demonstrations outside the town hall.

The judgment is bad news for other ratepayers' groups in London, who also plan to challenge the legality of high rate rises.

Challenges have been planned against the councils at Hammersmith and Fulham and Baling.

Waltham Forest ratepayers' spokesman, Mr Paul Crozier, said : " obviously, we now have a lot of serious thinking to do and will be taking legal advice about a possible appeal."

Guardian July 30, 1987.
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