HART Council has won the first round in its battle to stop government plans which would force council tax up by 28.1%.

The council's Operation Hart Broke campaign has achieved its first success — a saving of £600,000 for local taxpayers.

Central government has postponed for a year a radical proposal that would have forced the council to hand back almost £600,000 of taxpayers' money.

"This is a significant victory for such a small council," said Cllr Lorraine Fullbrook, the Hart cabinet member overseeing the hard-hitting campaign.

"Local people have become incensed about the financial pressure Hart Council faces this year and we have made our voices heard in Westminster loud and clear."

But Cllr Fullbrook, who drew up a detailed 16-page Operation Hart Broke briefing, warned the campaign still has a long way to go.

"We only have a reprieve of one year on only one aspect of a catalogue of crippling financial impositions," she warned.

Local MPs James Arbuthnot and Gerald Howarth supported Operation Hart Broke and fired off a joint protest letter to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. More than 1,500 local people have sent in e-mails or paper petitions supporting the campaign.

"We now start the second phase of Operation Hart Broke," said Cllr Fullbrook.

"We have to draw attention to the many other financial impositions of government that could still threaten a minimum council tax increase next year of around 14%."