Bylaws of Beccles fen charity agreed

An end to the long-running saga over Beccles Fen appears in sight after councillors agreed the bylaws for a new charitable trust that will manage the marshlands.

Councillors attended an extraordinary meeting on Monday and agreed proposals to accept the bylaws of the Beccles Fenland Charity Trust.

Under the new arrangements Beccles Town Council will become the sole trustee of the charity.

A complicated legal issue over the status of the fen 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 the 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.

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The change in status of Beccles Fen means that the lands have to be run separately 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.

Working party chairman Jeffrey Harris told the meeting: 'My aim all along was that the charity should be registered with the Charity Commission and the town council, as a duly elected body and answerable to the electorate, should continue to manage the income and expenditure of the fenlands.'

There was a debate over whether a map included all the land in question, but Mr Harris said the Charity Commission had informed him that land could be added at a later date.

Town councillor Michael Doherty said he thought it was too soon to vote on the issue and proposed the meeting be deferred.

But fellow town councillor Stephanie Bubb said: 'I think it is vital we make a decision and move on'.

The proposal to accept the bylaws of the Beccles Fenland Charity Trust was carried.

It is hoped the registration of the lands will be complete in time for the new financial year.