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Clare: Confusion over future of country park

PUBLISHED: 11:14 14 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:14 14 May 2014

Clare Country Park

Clare Country Park

Archant

The future of a picturesque west Suffolk park remains in doubt after it was claimed there were still “some uncertainties” to overcome before a deal can be reached.

Clare Town Council has been negotiating with Suffolk County Council for years about taking over Clare Country Park, with the county council submitting its latest prospective deal in the past few days.

The town council will be handed a lump sum to take over the park’s ownership and maintenance, although town council chairman Keith Haisman said it would have to “go back and clear up some uncertainties” before any deal could be struck.

It comes after accusations of double standards against Suffolk County Council over Brandon Country Park.

The county council performed a U-turn over the park last year, deciding to continue managing it despite initially trying to pass it on – leaving many in Clare wondering why the county cannot keep Clare’s country park on its books.

A council spokesman last night said handing over the parks “was a case-by-case process”, and that retaining Brandon was found to be “cheaper and more efficient” for the council.

It marks the latest twist in the saga that has been ongoing since 2010 and involved councils, groups from Clare as well as the National Trust and English Heritage.

Mr Haisman said: “We’ve got the right headings, but we’re not sure if the numbers are right – we’ll have to go back and clear up some uncertainties.”

The 38-acre park housesClare Castle, more than 1,000 trees, footpaths, railway bridges and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

Mr Haisman also told last week’s annual town meeting the council was preparing a bid for a “seven-figure” sum from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

About Brandon, he added: “Between some arrangement between Suffolk County Council and Forest Heath, West Suffolk, they seem to have a nice, brand new country park. That’s what’s happening in Brandon, and we put the question ‘if Brandon, why not Clare?’ We had a bit of an answer, but not satisfactory. It remains a bit of an issue for the town council.”

Talks between Brandon Town Council and Suffolk County Council over Brandon’s country park broke down in December 2012, with Suffolk County Council now owning and running the site, supported financially by Forest Heath.

A spokesman from Suffolk County Council said: “When we went through the divestment process for Suffolk County Council-owned parks and picnic sites, this was not a cut-and-dry approach, we took each site into consideration when deciding its future. This was a case-by-case process.

During the divestment process and after looking into Brandon Country Park, it worked out cheaper and more efficient for us to keep ownership of the site than to hand it over to anyone else.”

Mr Haisman said he hoped a public consultation would be launched 
about the proposals within the next month.

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