PLANS for a new £900,000 bus station could be ditched because of the cost, it has emerged. Instead, Huntingdonshire District Council has told officers to examine options for refurbishing the existing bus station for less money. It is one of a number of me

PLANS for a new £900,000 bus station could be ditched because of the cost, it has emerged.

Instead, Huntingdonshire District Council has told officers to examine options for refurbishing the existing bus station for less money.

It is one of a number of measures being considered by HDC to bridge an impending £5million budget deficit next year and the following year that will have to be made up in the short-term with what remains of the cash paid by social landlord the Luminus Group from the council's housing stock in 2000.

In view of the economic climate, HDC is planning to limit the increase in its Council Tax precept to just under 2.5 per cent - around £3 a year for the foreseeable future. A final decision on the budget and the level of Council Tax will be taken next February.

But one of the biggest worries is the huge cost of employer's pension contributions for the council, which could rise by 24 per cent over the coming years. Although decisions on local government pensions are taken nationally, individual councils will be called upon to foot the bill if fund deficits turn out as predicted.

The dire state of HDC's finances has five causes, according to opposition Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Peter Downes - which, slightly surprisingly, drew a large measure of agreement from Cllr Terry Rogers, Tory cabinet member for finance.

Cllr Downes attributed to the problems to a combination of:

* International recession

* Technical issues of tapering in central Government funding that penalise councils such as HDC

* Capping that meant the council could not implement a cross-party agreement on the level of Council Tax increases

* The decision to use interest on the proceeds of the sale of council houses to subsidise Council Tax in the past

* The imminence of a new Government after the General Election that will have to reduce public expenditure across the board

He suggested that one way for councils to reduce costs would be to share activities that are currently duplicated - which is one of the principal aims of 'Make Cambridgeshire Count', a project being developed by the county's local authorities and other public services to eliminate duplication and find other savings.

Cllr Rogers said the Government funding taper had cost HDC an accumulated £6million over the past six years. That, combined with additional tasks imposed with inadequate funding to the tune of £1.2million a year, was responsible for the budget shortfall, he said.