September 30 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
A west Suffolk park is back in the hands of the community after a last-minute intervention from Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee sealed the deal.
Clare Town Council voted unanimously tonight to take control of Clare Country Park from the county council, bringing an end to four years of wrangling between the two authorities.
Suffolk County Council (SCC) wanted to transfer the park back to the community and, as of last week, had offered the town council £230,000 to set them on their way - well below Clare’s valuation.
However, having attended a packed public meeting in Clare last week, Mr Bee managed to squeeze an additional £87,500 from the SCC coffers, with the overall £317,500 offer enough to convince the town council.
Keith Haisman, who has led the negotiation on Clare’s side, said: “I think it’s a significant improvement. I don’t think there’s anybody who could say this is not a fair and reasonable offer.”
The deal will see £230,000 paid up front, with payments of £50,000, £25,000 and £12,500 to follow over the next three years for the park to be run locally.
The town’s county councillor Mary Evans, who drew praise for her role in the negotiations, said: “I am delighted that Clare Town Council has accepted this very generous offer from Suffolk County Council.
“I have long believed the people of Clare, and not the county council, are the best people to run the park, as they know and cherish it.
“This funding package enables the trustees to take on the park and make a great success of running it on behalf of the people of Clare – I wish them every success.”
A board of trustees, headed by Geoffrey Bray, will now be set up to manage the park.
Those involved are confident of securing a seven-figure sum from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help fund the park’s renovation, while Mr Bray is targeting at least £32,000 a year from fundraising.
More than 80 people have already put their names down as volunteers.
Mr Bray said: “It’s not going to make it easy, but it’s going to make it a lot easier, this offer, I don’t think there’s any question about that.
“I think we can make a real go at it and I’m fully confident we can.”
The park contains the remains of a 13th Century stone castle keep and an old railway station, and is a popular spot for tourists.
The deal is the largest settlement SCC has ever offered for the transfer of an asset back to the community.
Had Clare rejected the deal, SCC had said it would invest a minimal amount in the park, only ensuring it complied with health and safety regulations.
SCC was also expected to raise the car parking charges and possibly sell the old station master’s house.