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Marshland debate could be resolved

PUBLISHED: 10:00 18 June 2010 | UPDATED: 09:49 01 August 2010

A COMPLICATED issue over the status of an expanse of marshland in Beccles appears to have almost been resolved after many months of discussions.

Beccles Fen was granted by charter to the people of the town by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584, but in recent times Beccles Town Council, as registered freehold owner, has rented much of the land to farmers to graze livestock.

A COMPLICATED issue over the status of an expanse of marshland in Beccles appears to have almost been resolved after many months of discussions.

Beccles Fen was granted by charter to the people of the town by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584, but in recent times Beccles Town Council, as registered freehold owner, has rented much of the land to farmers to graze livestock. The money that comes in amounts to £40,000 a year and is the council's third main source of income.

Early last year the Charity Commission launched an investigation into whether or not the land might have charitable status and it later wrote to the council to say it believes it does.

A working party was established to explore the issue and on Wednesday its chairman Jeffrey Harris said significant progress had been made.

He said: “About a month ago I went to London and met with a representative from the Charity Commission. He said he could see no reason why the town council should not become the trustees to the charity if and when the charity was set up.

“The next stage, if we wish to set up a charity, is to set up a governing document. The representative has sent me adequate notes of guidance and that is what we are working on.”

Mr Harris said that a solicitor is providing advice and when the document is complete it will be put before the town council for approval. He added: “I think we can say we are making significant progress. I am keeping in email contact with the Charity Commission. It has been very helpful.”

The change in status of Beccles Fen would mean that the lands would have to be run separately from the council by trustees and be subject to specific rules and accounting procedures. The council would also not be able to use the income as it does at present as there will be rules about how the money can be used.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: We have been in regular contact with Beccles Town Council since informing them of our decision that the land known as Beccles Fen is charitable.

“We have provided the council, as trustees of charitable land, with guidance on the process of registering a charity and will remain in contact with the council in relation to this matter.”

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