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Special meeting planned for Beccles Fen

PUBLISHED: 13:07 21 January 2011

COUNCILLORS are to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the next stage of the long-running saga over Beccles Fen.

A complicated legal issue over the status of the expanse of marshland has been rumbling on for about two years.

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.

In early 2009, the Charity Commission launched an investigation into whether or not the land might have charitable status and it later wrote to the town council to say it does.

The change in status of Beccles Fen means that the lands have to be run separately from the council by trustees, and be subject to specific rules and accounting procedures.

A working party was established to explore the issue and the Charity Commission told the group that it could see no reason why the town council should not become the trustees of the charity.

At a town council meeting on Tuesday, working party chairman Jeffrey Harris said that a governing document had been submitted to the Charity Commission and it was proposed that the council agree to hold a special meeting on Monday to discuss and approve, if appropriate, the bylaws of what would become the newly-formed Beccles Fenland Charity Trust.

Councillor Michael Doherty spoke of his concern that the meeting was being held too soon.

He said: “We have been discussing this for two years and we have now got to a stage where some form of document has been brought to our attention by the working party.

“The governing document was sent to the Charity Commission and all sorts of stuff has come back and forth. I have seen none of this. I have requested it but I have not seen any of it.

“I think this is too soon. We have only seen the information in front of us this evening and it is going to take a lot of reading and thinking about.”

Mr Harris said he took Mr Doherty’s point but said he was keen to see the land registered as charity by March 31 in time for the new financial year.

“If the council accepts these bylaws we then have to go through what appears to be a prolonged process of registration of the charity,” he said.

“What I am suggesting is that if we are not careful we are going to miss the March 31 deadline. I hoped this would be in place for April 1 for the new financial year.”

Mr Doherty proposed deferring the meeting for four weeks, but the vote was not carried.

An extraordinary meeting will be held at the town hall on Monday at 6.30pm. The public will be given a chance to speak at the meeting.

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