Consultation on future of Beccles Fen land
- Credit: Archant
Beccles residents are being asked to have their say on what has been labelled the biggest decision facing the town council for 200 years.
A public consultation is being held on proposals from the council to register around 607 acres of land north of the A146 as 'charitable' with the Charity Commission.
This would see the section of land, which is currently on agricultural lease, in the hands of the Beccles Fenland Charity Trust rather than the council.
The proposal has been forward following more than 13 years of arguments between the council and the commission regarding the ownership of the land, which is known as Beccles Fen.
Beccles mayor Graham Catchpole said after 'extreme pressure' the council is proposing to register 607 of the 898 acres it owns with the charity to try to end the stalemate on the land, which is the second highest income for the council.
'This is the biggest decision facing this council probably for 200 years,' he said. 'It is important that the people of Beccles make themselves very familiar with the situation that faces us and make their opinion known to us.'
The commission and Beccles Society have referred to the 1584 charter granted by Elizabeth I that said that 1,400 acres of land was to be used for the benefit of the people of Beccles.
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They have argued that the land should be transferred to a charity, but there has been much debate about the exact meaning of the charter and the area of land referred to.
John Sayer, of Beccles Society, said: 'We have been trying to get the council to accept the notion that this land is charitable and that the charity is there to make sure that it is used for proper purposes – for the benefit of the whole of Beccles.'
He said he was waiting to see what had been put forward before commenting on the proposals and said it was important for the people of Beccles to have their say.
'It is important because the land is there and it is for the benefit of people in the town. It is a one off and we have got to get it right.'
Two years ago, Beccles Fenland Charity Trust was formed to manage Beccles Fen and distribute money made from it to the people of the town, with the council as the sole trustee. It was hoped that this would end the complicated legal wrangle, but the commission wants the council to transfer land into the ownership of the trust.
The council has argued that it is difficult to prove the specific area being referred to, said that this would add another layer of administration to the process, not make it publically accountable and could potentially mean in the future it could be taken away from the people of Beccles if other trustees were later added and decided the best way to maximise the financial benefit for the town was to sell it.
However, they have made this proposal to try to bring the issue to a close.
The land that has not been put forward for charitable status includes sections to the south of the A146 that are currently home to a number of buildings and sports clubs.
•The consultation takes place at the Town Hall, in Beccles on Tuesday between 11am and 6pm. Documents can also be seen by appointment at the town hall until Tuesday, March 26.
Responses can be sent to Beccles Town Council, Town Hall, The Walk, Beccles, NR34 9AJ or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
• See letters on Page 19