Mayor defends council over marshes

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:23 01 August 2010

Emily Dennis

THE mayor of Beccles has denied suggestions that the town council is “dragging its feet” over a complicated legal issue about the status of the town's marshes.

THE mayor of Beccles has denied suggestions that the town council is “dragging its feet” over a complicated legal issue about the status of the town's marshes.

Early last year the Charity Commission launched an investigation into whether Beccles Fen might have charitable status and last summer it wrote to the town council to say it believes it does.

The town council has established a working party to examine the issue, but as yet no agreement has been reached.

Beccles mayor Jack Walmsley said: “The town council has managed the fen for 175 years. Sometimes it may appear to some people that we are dragging our feet. We are not dragging our feet. We are trying to be careful and get it right - that is the important thing.

“We have spent a lot of time trying to clarify where the town lay and where the lands lay. At the back of my mind we serve the people of Beccles and their interests. We must make sure we get it right.”

The fen was granted by charter to the people of the town by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584, but in recent times the 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.

If it is agreed the land has charitable status it must 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 all the income as it does at present as there will be rules about how the money can be used. What is more the council would be left with a gap in its budget that could mean having to put up its precept (its share of the overall council tax).

Town councillor Jill Featherstone said: “I think we should register it as charitable land because it is charitable land. But I think we should fight really hard to be the trustees. I feel we need to put a strong case and we might need professional advice.

“Beccles Town Council has governed and managed this land for a number of years. I do not think it will be much different. It will be a shame, I think, if trustees are put in place who are not democratically elected. I think we should be working with the Charity Commission and make a strong case for that.”

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