September 22 2014 Latest news:
West Suffolk reporter
Monday, August 11, 2014
A west Suffolk town has reiterated its anger at perceived “unfair treatment” from county and borough councils as decision day looms regarding the future of a popular park.
Around 200 people packed into Clare Town Hall to hear frank exchanges between the town’s representatives and Suffolk County Council (SCC), who are nearing the end of talks about the possible transfer of Clare Country Park.
SCC is happy for Clare Town Council to take the park over, and has offered them £230,000 plus VAT with this in mind. The county says such assets are better run by the community and the deal is “the largest settlement for a project similar to this” it has ever offered.
But negotiators on Clare’s side are still not happy, because they believe the sum of money being offered is nowhere near enough to bring the park up to scratch.
They are also pointing to the case of Brandon Country Park, which SCC and Forest Heath District Council are now continuing to invest in having failed to find anyone to run it.
Town councillor Keith Haisman, who has led the negotiations from Clare’s side, said: “My benchmark is ‘is it enough, and is it fair and reasonable?’ In my personal opinion, it is not.
“There is some unfair treatment going on here.”
The county council’s offer will cover the full cost of works proposed by Clare Town Council for the old railway buildings in the park, as well as providing £25,000 to be spent as the town council wishes.
Suffolk has also covered the legal fees on Clare’s side.
However, given the county council’s lack of investment, the town council believes the total bill for necessary improvements to the buildings and green space is around £448,000.
There is further anger as Brandon Country Park gets an annual subsidy of £71,000 from Suffolk County Council, which is being reduced to £60,000, as well as £22,000 a year from Forest Heath.
St Edmundsbury, which works with Forest Heath as West Suffolk, has an annual parks budget of £1.2million and while it is not committing any money to Clare County Park, has agreed to provide an officer for the park for three days a year.
SCC leader Mark Bee, who was at the meeting along with Clare’s county councillor Mary Evans, said Brandon was different to Clare because it had had significant investment around 10 years ago, the money for which is not available now.
Mr Bee added: “We feel this is a good deal because it will hand a resource that came from the community back to the community – back to the people who are going to treasure it.”
Clare Town Council is holding an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday where it will make its final decision.
If Clare rejects the deal, the county council is likely to increase car parking charges and sell some of the park’s assets.
If the town council takes on the park, a board of trustees headed by Geoffrey Bray will take over and look to secure a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as aiming to raise around £32,000 every year from fundraising.