Crunch meeting on Southwold harbour lands

Southwold Harbour.

Southwold Harbour. - Credit: Nick Butcher

A landmark meeting will be held in Southwold next week to discuss the future of the town's harbour lands.

Waveney District Council and Southwold Town Council are hoping to reach a joint agreement over the future ownership and management of the area surrounding the harbour, which includes the adjoining caravan site.

Representatives from the two councils will meet on Monday to vote on plans to set up a joint committee to replace the working group which oversees the harbour lands, and act as a strategic board until a new formal agreement can be put in place.

It comes after a public consultation over proposals for the area received more than 100 written responses.

Helen Bishop, joint chairman of the Southwold Caravan Owners' Association (SCOA), said members welcomed proposals to set up a strategic board between the two councils but remained concerned about recommendations to explore options for private investment and operation of the Waveney-run site.

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She said SCOA members, as major stakeholders in the caravan site, expected to have representation on the new strategic board.

Ms Bishop has previously argued that SCOA does not want to see the site turned in to 'Butlins by the sea' or become an up-market luxury resort, which could destroy the rustic atmosphere of the site and price out existing caravan owners.

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In the run-up to the meeting, group members have been distributing leaflets in Southwold outlining their objections amid concerns that many local people are not aware of the public consultation.

Ms Bishop said: 'SCOA maintains that external funding or private management will substantially reduce the amount of money available to be reinvested in the harbour lands or caravan site.

'It will inevitably push the site up-market and destroy the character of the site.'

Ms Bishop said that SCOA members were also concerned that revenue generated at the caravan site would in future be reinvested in the harbour lands.

She said: 'SCOA will go further and argue that, because the caravan site fees have been taken into Waveney's general budget for decades, they must now be ringfenced to provide investment to upgrade the caravan site.'

She added: 'SCOA sees an upgrade of the caravan site as an important opportunity. Reinvestment of the caravan site revenue will enable it to be done in an ecological and environmentally sensitive way to create a beacon caravan site and something Southwold can be proud of.'

Graham Hay Davison, chairman of the Southwold Harbour and River Blyth Users Association, said the proposals made for the future of the harbour lands were reasonable.

He said the priority was to ensure that revenues generated within the harbour lands were reinvested in the area, in accordance with the 1933 Southwold Harbour Order.

He added: 'This is a step towards the ultimate objective. If they can set up a joint committee and give it executive powers, it is a move forward.'

The meeting will be held at the Stella Peskett Millennium Hall in Mights Road at 7pm and is open to the public.

Southwold town councillor Will Windell said the meeting was a significant step forward and believed to be the first time in English history that a town and district council had ever held a joint meeting.

He said: 'This isn't the end of the process. It is the next step really. We have had a year and a half of joint working groups and this will formalise the working groups into a committee.

'We will be looking to explore different forms of governance for the harbour lands because, at the moment, it is very much being Waveney-run.

'Although the consultation has ended, it doesn't mean we will stop talking to people. It is the start of a much longer process.'

Monday's meeting will include a debate by members of Waveney's cabinet, chaired by council leader Colin Law, followed by a Southwold Town Council debate, chaired by town mayor Ann Betts.

Mr Windell will chair the meeting, which will conclude with a vote on plans to set up the joint committee.

The area known as Southwold Harbour Lands was bequeathed to the people of Southwold by William Godell in 1509 and run as a charitable concern by commissioners and trustees until their responsibilities were transferred to Southwold Borough Council, now the town council, in 1898.

The 1933 Southwold Harbour Order confirmed the borough council as the trustee, but it was dissolved in 1972, leading to the creation of the town council and Waveney District Council.

The ownership of the harbour lands has been disputed ever since, with both councils laying claim to it.

Mr Windell added: 'We have always felt as a joint working group that we need to move forward and not just keep looking back at the history.

'Over the last 18 months we started as two working groups apart and there was historical mistrust between Southwold and Waveney.

'Now that has gone and we are committed to working together to get the best outcome for the harbour lands.'

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