Waveney legal costs 'avoidable' - claim

PUBLISHED: 10:57 17 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:33 06 July 2010

LEGAL costs racked up by a council in an ownership dispute over a caravan site in Southwold were avoidable and could have been better spent, a users' group representative has said.

LEGAL costs racked up by a council in an ownership dispute over a caravan site in Southwold were avoidable and could have been better spent, a users' group representative has said.

It emerged earlier this month that the total cost of legal fees incurred by Waveney District Council in defending proposals to sell off caravan sites at Southwold harbour and at North Denes in Lowestoft reached £348,000. Of that, £62,000 was for matters relating to the Southwold site.

Graham Hay Davison, from Southwold Harbour and River Blyth Users Association, said: “I think it's an appalling figure and a complete waste of tax-payers' money. The ownership of Southwold caravan site was never in doubt. It has always formed part of the harbour lands since the 1933 Southwold Harbour order.”

Mr Hay Davison said the freehold for the site was never passed to the council and that Waveney “wasted” £62,000 looking into the matter, adding: “The wording is not obtuse or obscure. An awful lot of time and money has been spent by Waveney.”

Mr Hay Davison said he did not believe that the council had abided by the 1933 order, stating that money raised from the harbour must be ploughed back into the harbour.

He said he believed that if the council had adhered to the order, the north dock wall may not now be in danger of collapse as the income would have been used to fund repairs over the years, after it was revealed the council needed to find £3.4m for repairs to the crumbling harbour wall.

Mr Hay Davison also said the money spent on legal costs could have gone towards improving facilities at the site, adding: “It could have been spent on better things but had they listened to the conditions in the 1933 order they wouldn't have had the costs in the first place.

“It would have been much better spent on upgrading the caravan site and rebuilding the toilets. The toilets are filthy, disgusting and unsanitary. These are the only toilets on offer to visiting yachtsmen coming to Southwold harbour. What sort of picture does that paint to visitors?”

A council spokesman said: “Waveney District Council has repeatedly made its position clear regarding the 1933 Harbours Act and is completely satisfied with our compliance with the order and relevant accounting practices. The council has just approved the process that will lead to a full repair of the north dock wall and a consultation will start in the next couple of weeks.”

Waveney District Council, which has run the harbour since the 1970s, has agreed to start the process to get it signed back over to the town. The Southwold Harbour Lands Trust has been set up to take over the management of the site, which includes the car park and campsite, next year.

Councillors agreed to a raft of measures to prevent the authority from facing spiralling costs in the future after an audit commission report this month revealed that a lack of control over spending on legal advice led to the £348,000 bill.

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