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Legal wrangle over Beccles Fen marshes

PUBLISHED: 08:01 11 June 2009 | UPDATED: 10:04 06 July 2010

The patchwork quilt of marshes is steeped in history and forms an important part of Broadland's picturesque landscape.

But a legal wrangle that has been simmering for months over the status of Beccles Fen has reached an important milestone with it looking likely that the management of the lands will have to change.

The patchwork quilt of marshes is steeped in history and forms an important part of Broadland's picturesque landscape.

But a legal wrangle that has been simmering for months over the status of Beccles Fen has reached an important milestone with it looking likely that the management of the lands will have to change.

The marshes were given to the people of the town in 1584 by Queen Elizabeth I but in recent times Beccles Town Council, as registered freehold owner, has rented much of the land, some 750 acres, to farmers to graze livestock.

The money that comes in amounts to about £40,000 a year and is the council's third main source of income.

But after an inquiry from an individual the Charity Commission launched an investigation into whether the land might have charitable status.

According to the commission records exist to show that the land has been treated as a charitable trust as far back as 1829, a view disputed by the town council.

After several months of investigation the commission says it now believes the land to be charitable, but expects to have ongoing discussions with the town council before a final decision is made.

If it is agreed the lands do have charitable status they must be run separately from the town council by a group of trustees and be subject to specific rules and accounting procedures. The town council would also not be able to use all the income as it does at present as there will be rules about how the money can be used.

What is more the council would be left with a gap in its budget that could mean having to put up its precept its share of the overall council tax bill that goes to townspeople.

Beccles mayor Jack Walmsley said the town council would meet to decide what should happen next.

He said: “We have sent a copy of the letter of their findings to all the councillors and we will call a special council meeting to consider it.”

He added that one of the issues councillors would discuss was whether they should consider appealing the decision.

“That is quite straightforward. Do we accept it or are there other issues we wish to take up?” he said. “After several hundred years operating in the way it has it is going to be much more complicated and it is possible that if we do not do it correctly the town may suffer.”

Beccles town clerk Berenice Broom added: “We need to look at the points they've raised. We need to gather all the information and we're taking advice from our solicitors for the best way forward.”

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