Public backlash in row over iconic harbour’s future contributes to council rethink

Southwold harbour at dusk Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Southwold harbour at dusk Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

A “middle ground” has been proposed in a long-running dispute over who controls an iconic harbour after a strong public backlash against plans to resolve the issue.

Southwold harbour icture: NICK BUTCHER

Southwold harbour icture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

However, Waveney District Council has warned the current set-up for managing Southwold Harbour is “not acceptable” if the area is to get £20million of improvements it is believed to need.

The authority wanted to replace a charitable trust set up in 2015 - made up of parties with an interest in its future - with a new trading company owned and controlled by the council.

It argued that having full control of the trading company was necessary to invest in the working port, with WDC director of operations Kerry Blair adding: “We potentially think there’s £20m that needs to be invested in that harbour.

“To put all that responsibility on a little voluntary body we believe is irresponsible.”

Southwold Harbour.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Southwold Harbour. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Yet although the Department for Transport (DfT) said the current charitable trust model was not the best approach, it said a legal order governing the harbour meant a transfer to a trading company could not take place.

The DfT also said a new trading company should have widespread support.

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With hundreds signing a petition against what they saw as an attempt by the council to take control of the site, WDC director of operations Kerry Blair said: “Clearly we did not win support.

“There was concern that it represented Waveney having complete control of everything.

“We’ve got to take that on the chin, so we’ve gone back to the drawing board.”

It has now proposed setting up a new Harbour Management Committee as a “middle ground” between a trading company and charitable trust.

Under that arrangement, membership of a new committee would be shared between residents and businesses alongside others with specific skills or experience in port management.

But while welcoming the move away from the trading company suggestion, campaigners say they believe there is too much uncertainty around the revised proposals.

Mike Pickles, committee member on the Southwold Haven Port Stakeholders Group, said documents published ahead of a Southwold Harbour Lands Joint Committee on Tuesday, December 18 to discuss the new proposal contain “significant omissions and a lack of clarity around the fundamental concept”.

But Mr Blair said: “We will need to establish a basis of trust between ourselves a local people.

“The majority of people want to see a resolution to the issue.”

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