HOPES of government financial support to fill a future funding black hole were expressed at a council budget meeting, while moves to double tree cover across northern Oxfordshire were approved.

Cherwell District Council approved plans to double tree cover ‘as far as possible’ by 2045 at its meeting on Monday night.

During the meeting CDC also discussed its budget for the 2020/21 financial year, approving its spending commitments and a council tax rise of £5 for an average home in the area.

This means the average Cherwell household will pay £133.50 in 2020/21, up from £128.50 in 2019/20, and equates to a total council tax collection of £7,417,247 over the year.

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But CDC's medium term finances, also discussed at the meeting, have a multi-million pound funding gap each year, starting from 2021/22.

This funding gap led to concerns from Labour group member Andrew Beere.

He said: "This council, in the year after next, on the basis of what is issued in this document, is going to be 30 to 40 per cent short of money in any given year.

"I hope the new chancellor might come up with a bit more money."

A report to the council said there would be a £7.7 million funding gap in 2021/22, and of similar amounts in each following year, if the council wanted to carry on with all its current services.

The report said cuts to the New Homes Bonus and other government cuts had led to the forecast, and added the council was trying to share resources with Oxfordshire County Council and 'commercialise' services to save money.

Council leader Barry Wood said: "There are going to be medium term pressures on all local governments in this country. We need to wait for what Rishi Sunak says in his budget because I think there will intentionally be some kind of replacement for the new homes bonus."

In the budget, the council has committed to a series of measures aimed at tackling climate change, including replacing street light bulbs with cost-saving LEDs, new recycling bins, and works on the Oxford canal.

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CDC's offices in Banbury.

But the proposals came in for criticism from the opposition, with Green councillor Ian Middleton pointing out that one pot of money worth £250,000 for continuing climate change work was spread out over five years, meaning only £50,000 was being spent each year.

Meanwhile, Labour group leader Sean Woodcock described the spending as 'chicken feed', and suggested more investment was also needed to build now homes and bring down anti-social behaviour across the district.

Councillors also discussed a proposal to double tree cover across Cherwell district.

The area currently has five percent tree coverage according to council documents, much lower than the UK national average of 13 per cent.

Conservative councillor, Hugo Brown, who proposed the motion, said: “This is perhaps one motion which speaks for itself as far as possible double woodland cover in Cherwell District by 2045.

“This is not just an issue for Cherwell and Oxfordshire but forms part of a national and international issue.

“Trees are part of the solution, they are not the whole solution. My motion is asking that CDC becomes part-of-part of the solution by allocating 3,000 hectares to the cause.”

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Mr Brown said under his proposal, the district would need to plan 328 trees a day to meet the target.

Green councillor Ian Middleton suggested the deadline to double tree cover should be brought forward to 2030.

Mr Middleton added the planting scheme should be more ambitious as ongoing council plans would lead to the destruction of trees, including CDC’s support of the Oxfordshire growth agenda.

But the majority of councillors thought Mr Middleton's suggestion would not be achievable and voted down his amendment.

The council also heard from Jamie Hartzell, a member of the group Oxfordshire Trees for the Future, which is working towards creating a tree plan, which will suggest where and what kind of trees could be planted in different parts of the county.

The original plan to double tree cover by 2045 was passed with unanimous support from councillors.

There was acknowledgement among councillors that farmers and other private landowners would need to be part of any tree-planting scheme.