MARCH 2018

During February, we responded to proposals from Waveney District Council for the governance of Southwold Harbour and the Harbour Lands including the Caravan Site. The proposal would transfer responsibility for the Harbour Lands to a new Company wholly owned by Waveney. Here are the key points from our response.

  1. We are pleased that the District Council is now committed to moving matters forward in an open and transparent fashion.
  1. We are unconvinced by the arguments against the transfer of the Harbour Lands to an independent Trust as agreed in 2015 by both Waveney and Southwold Councils. A Trust established to run the Harbour would retain its charitable status and the requirement that it is run for the benefit of the community.
  1. The proposed new Company will be wholly owned by the District Council. This removes the charitable status of the harbour, creating a risk that decisions could be taken which are not in the interests of the community.
  1. The Harbour Lands need strategic leadership to maintain a viable harbour in face of the challenges faced, especially those posed by sea level rise and storm surges and by the cost of improvements needed over the next 50 years. Investment in both the harbour and the estuary must address these challenges and increase the income generated by the harbour.
  1. The Harbour Lands also need agile management which operates flexibly and commercially to maximise income and develop a robust business able to fund the required investments.
  1. We believe the Trust model would best provide this strategic leadership and agile management. If, however, the decision is taken to proceed with the company structure, we can see no point in a subsidiary company to operate the Caravan Site. This unnecessary complication would undo the good work achieved in the harbour and the caravan site while jointly run by the harbour master.
  1. A separate company for the Caravan Site seems likely to lead to an outsourced or more aggressively commercial approach. We agree the site needs to be improved to meet modern standards. Nonetheless, it should be developed in keeping with its marshland location and with modest facilities and caravans accessible to visitors otherwise priced out of Southwold. Such a site could generate improved income without fundamental change to a valued local amenity.
  1. The charitable arm of any new scheme for the Harbour, whether an overall Trust as previously agreed or a charity set up alongside a new company, must be required to take responsibility for raising funds and allocating resources to ensure both the estuary and harbour can withstand expected surge tides.
  1. Finally, we would ask that guarantees are given and then incorporated into legally binding regulations to:
    1. prevent any Harbour Company or Trust being sold onto a third party or allowed to dispose of the Harbour Lands
    2. ensure that the income from the Harbour Lands is ring-fenced and wholly retained for use within the Harbour and the Estuary
    3. require the appointment of Trustees or Directors to include a majority of independent members appointed for their relevant knowledge and experience
    4. ensure these commitments are transferred in full to the new East Suffolk District Council.
Simon Flunder, Committee Member