Plans to set up a tram museum in Fleetwood are now at risk because of a £2,000 bill, trustees of the scheme have revealed.
Since last year, seven of the vintage trams earmarked for the heritage museum have been based on dockland owned by Associated British Ports.
Trustee Frank Heald says this spare land has never previously been liable for business rate charges and ABP has allowed them to use it free of charge.
But Mr Heald says Wyre Council has now told the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust it is imposing a back-dated rateable value of more than £12,000 on this land, and the Trust had to pay a percentage of it.
Although, as a charity, the Trust receives an automatic 80 per cent mandatory rate relief, Wyre Council has rejected an appeal for an extra 20 per cent discretionary reduction, meaning a business rates bill of more than £2,000 now has to be paid.
Mr Heald says the bill could bankrupt the Trust, forcing it to sell off trams which could effectively kill off the cherished dream of a heritage museum and visitor centre, for which the Trust is still seeking a suitable site.
Wyre Council says the Trust already has a mandatory 80 per cent rates reduction on the land, and argues that to offer extra concessions would go against the council’s usual policy.
But Mr Heald blasted: “We will not pay this charge on principle and court is the next stop.
“It is sad a council that does not care is at pains to take money from charities working hard to regenerate communities. This bill may well bankrupt the Trust. If we have to sell trams to pay this demand, it defeats our object.
“We have put a lot of time and effort into something that will benefit the community and preserve these trams for local people and visitors alike.
“This will destroy us.”
Mr Heald told the council individuals who received no income from the Trust had bought the trams on behalf of the Trust.
A Wyre Council spokeswoman said: “Business rates are set according to national guidelines and collected by the council on behalf of the government. A mandatory discount of 80 per cent is awarded to charities which Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust has benefited from.
“Any further discretionary relief would have to be paid for by local council tax payers and has therefore traditionally been awarded to only two organisations that ensure the safety of those at sea.
“The council does support local businesses and initiatives in various ways including our nationally-recognised Wyred Up meetings and Shaping Your Neighbourhood grants fund. We’ve also secured significant funding to boost the local economy through the Five For Fleetwood project and £191,000 of business support for town centres through the Revive and Thrive challenge.”
The plans for the tram attraction appeared troubled in February when negotiations over two possible sites fell through, meaning the Trust was unable to apply for a grant to cover most of the £350,000 cost of setting up the attraction.
Mr Heald said: “We are struggling but still determined to create a Heritage Transport Visitor Attraction.”