'It's our land' - residents launch spirited defence of harbour in ownership row
Archant © 2018
A row over who owns an iconic harbour has intensified, with campaigners vowing to fight for control for what they call "our land".
Waveney District Council (WDC) wants to replace a charitable trust set up in 2015 to run Southwold Harbour, made up of parties with an interest in its future, with a new trading company owned and controlled by the council.
It believes having full control over how the trading company is run will make it easier to invest in much-needed improvements into the working port.
It is pledging a multi-million pound investment into its future and says: “We only want to do things in the harbour that would be acceptable locally.”
However Bill Steele, chairman of the Southwold Haven Port Stakeholders Group set up in opposition to the plans, said: “It’s our land and we’d like to keep our land because we feel we can do a better job in managing it.”
The group fears WDC will try to sell the harbour in the future, as it once tried to do in 2003.
They say they have gained 1,000 signatures on a petition against the move.
WDC head of operations Kerry Blair has pledged to write into the articles of agreement of the new trading company that the site could not be sold.
But Mr Steele believes this is a “hollow pledge”, adding: “Shareholders will be the new who decide the articles of agreement and can change whatever they like.
“At some stage in the future, when Mr Blair has retired, they might strike that clause out and sell it - that’s our worry.”
WDC believes it is in a position to change how Southwold Harbour is run because all its legal advice shows it owns the site.
However the stakeholders group disputes that, believing a 1933 order suggests the mayor, councillors and people of Southwold own it.
Cath Pickles, who is leading the campaign against the move on social media, said: “I’m pleased but not surprised that the petition is close to 1,000 signatures in just a few days.
“People remember only too well the attempts of the Tory administration to sell the caravan site back in 2003 and the recent business rate rises more recently.
“The harbour belongs to the people of Southwold – ordinary working people and their families. They mustn’t be lost for commercial gain.”
The arrangements for managing Southwold Harbour have been hotly debated for many years.
However members of the stakeholders group believe the 2015 agreement, in which the charitable trust was set up, resolved the issue.
The council hopes the new trading company will be up and running by the end of 2018 and will continue to hold discussions during the summer.