Broads Authority questioned for seeking views in Thorpe Island legal row

Jenners Basin in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Jenners Basin in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A local authority's actions are being questioned after it asked its members if they supported residents facing eviction in a long-running legal wrangle.

Broads Authority members were asked to confirm if they signed a petition in support of people facing eviction from an island in the river at Thorpe St Andrew.

The area of land is at centre of a costly and long-running legal wrangle between the authority and landowner Roger Wood.

In a leaked internal email seen by the EDP, Broads Authority chief executive John Packman warned members about going against the authority's position on the issue.

He said by doing so they would 'undermine' public confidence in the authority and damage its reputation.

But a source within the authority criticised the wording of the email, adding that people had the right to a private opinion. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said: 'I feel it was completely inappropriate for the chief executive to send the email. It crossed the line between our role as members and what we choose to do in our private lives with our own money.

'The full authority has never discussed Thorpe Island. The unanimous decision was taken by the planning committee and I feel the issue warrants a wider discussion.'

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The email, dated January 29, asked members to confirm if they had any contact with the Thorpe Island campaign.

It followed comments from island representatives who claimed authority members had contributed to their crowdfunding campaign.

The money raised is expected to be used to cover legal costs in fighting the authority's enforcement action against them.

In his email to members, Mr Packman said: 'If members are supporting the petition or helping to fund the opposition to the authority's unanimously agreed position on Thorpe Island, this undermines public confidence in the authority and damages its reputation and credibility as a local planning authority.

'It also places the authority at serious risk of legal challenge, involving yet further expenditure of public money.'

The Broads Authority said all 21 members responded to the email and stressed that they were free to hold their own views.

It stated there was 'no implication' for members who contacted the campaign, but added: 'The authority has concerns if members have actively supported a campaign against the authority's unanimous decision.'

A spokesman said the authority's vice-chairman had since written to one member regarding their response to the questions.

Island representative Gary Barnes, who previously revealed that members were supporting the campaign, said: 'How can it be that individual BA members cannot have a personal view on the matter?'