Councils slammed for lack of support for Clare Castle Country Park

At the Victorian station masters house in Clare Castle Country Park are, from left:  Cllr Derek Blake, Geoffrey Bray; chairman of the trustees and Clare Town councillors Keith Mison and Keith Haisman. Pic by Ben Carmichael
At the Victorian station masters house in Clare Castle Country Park are, from left: Cllr Derek Blake, Geoffrey Bray; chairman of the trustees and Clare Town councillors Keith Mison and Keith Haisman. Pic by Ben Carmichael

Both Suffolk County Council (SCC) and St Edmundsbury Borough Council (SEBC) have been accused of failing to offer enough financial support for Clare Castle Country Park (CCCP).

The two councils came under fire during a public meeting held at Clare Town Hall last Thursday (7) to discuss whether the town council should accept an offer from the county council to take over the management of the park.

During the meeting, Clare Town Councillor Keith Haisman also suggested the borough council’s chief executive should be ‘shamed’ for not offering to contribute towards the costs of running the park from the £1.2m annual budget it has for parks.

He said: “They can’t find any money for their £1.2m budget to support Clare. Is that a fair and reasonable stance to take towards Clare. I think not.”

Alaric Pugh, SEBC councillor for Clare, told the meeting: “I don’t have responsibility for parks and leisure.

“St Edmundsbury does have responsibility for the parks it owns.

“It does not have ownership of Clare Country Park, that’s a responsibility that SCC has.

“I suspect they are legally restrained from being able to pay out money on a park they don’t own.

“I have been badgering, harrying, asking, doing all of these things on our behalf to St Eds for all of that period and I got the same answer that SCC gives, ‘it’s because we are undergoing major budgetary cuts’.”

Cllr Haisman responded by saying St Edmundsbury has offered just three days per year of its officers’ time towards the park.

He added: “I think it’s a little bit disingenuous of St Edmundsbury, not you Alaric, to say there may be legal restraints.

“There are not legal restraints on St Edmundsbury putting money into a park they don’t own.

“I would like you to take this to your chief executive and shame them. They should be shamed.”

Cllr Haisman asked Cllr Pugh to formally request a statement from the ‘highest level’ at the borough that they are ‘not willing to spend a penny on the park.’

He added: “Then we will know the true colours of St Edmundsbury with regard to the Clare Country Park.”

SCC has offered Clare Town Council a dowery of £230,000 to take over the park, with a further £30,000 also available for any necessary works at the park.

The large audience at the meeting was told by town councillor Derek Blake that the dowery would cover the £158,000 required to bring the railway buildings up to scratch and some other costs, such as legal fees and design and project costs.

However, he said a further £180,000 is needed to de-silt its moats and ponds, and although a bid would be made for a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), should that fail there was concern over how those costs could be met.

He also added that the annual costs of managing the park are estimated at £32,000, which would have to be raised through fund-raising and events organised by the group of trustees elect that would manage the park on behalf of the town council.

Suffolk County Council was also criticised for not offering more financial support to the park, as it does the country park in Brandon, which Cllr Blake said, received a £71,000 annual subsidy from SCC, although that is dropping to £60,000, plus a £22,000 subsidy from Forest Heath District Council.

On this point. Mr Haisman said: “I think Brandon is a real comparitable for us in terms of fairness of treatment.

“I think it’s a real Achilles heel for SCC.”

He also claimed out that Suffolk County Council has only spent a net £18,000 on Clare Castle Country Park for each of the last three years, saying: “That is far too little.”

Suffolk County Council leader, Cllr Mark Bee, told the meeting: “The financial reality is that we simply don’t have the money to put what we would like to into the park.”

Geoffrey Bray, from the trustees, said the £230,000 dowery would cover any ‘catch up work’ at the park, but not pay for the de-silting, although he was confident that the HLF bid would succeed.

Although 83 people have so far registered as volunteers to run the park, Mr Bray said the trustees had concerns over the future annual income, saying: “Income is a higher risk. We can’t guarantee it.”

After collecting feedback forms from the meeting Clare Town Council was due to make a decision on whether to accept the offer from SCC at its meeting last night (Wednesday, August 13).