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Laura Lee, a Billericay resident and weight-loss consultant is dissapointed at Basildon Councils move to increase the cost of hiring out community halls in the borough.

Laura runs a Sliiming World class at the Billericay Day Centre and has recently seen the rent she pays increase by nearly £10 an hour. She has been running the class in Chantry Way every week for 9 years.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Laura Lee"]For a long time, I’ve paid £54 to hire the hall out for three hours a week. This has now gone up to £81 for three hours. That’s a staggering amount of money – and something I cannot afford. They say that they have moved me into a commercial rate category instead of giving me the community rate I have always paid. I don’t think this is fair, as my group is open to everyone in the community who wants to lose weight and improve their health. We even have people referred with vouchers from their GP.[/quote]

Last week, it was reported the council will review the way it operates its 50 community halls across the borough and has not ruled out closing some buildings in a bid to save around £200,000. In a bid by the council to generate revenue some community halls have seen their costs go up by 60% and this has angered many community hall users.

Laura has now started up a petition to fight the increase, which has been signed by dozens of her Slimming World clients. She added: “I’m a key holder at the hall and I’ve been a regular user for almost a decade. I’m worried these costs will affect a lot of community groups and clubs who just won’t be able to afford to hire out a hall. The council should be focusing their efforts on promoting the use of its hall to the wider community to bring in money – not penalising loyal users.”

Pippa Brent-Isherwood, is Basildon Council’s manager of community services, “Hirers of all council-run community halls have been split into two categories, community and commercial, with different rates. The decision as to whether a hirer is classified as a community or commercial hirer was based on accounts and other information submitted to the council by each hirer. Slimming World, as a national company generating an income from its activities in the hall, has been designated a commercial hirer.”

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