There have been important developments regarding the future governance of the Harbour Lands. At the time of writing, the decisions made by the Southwold Harbour Lands Joint Committee of Waveney and Southwold Councils are expected to be approved by a joint meeting of both Councils on March 15th. The Joint Committee will then be required to establish a Harbour Management Committee to run the Harbour Lands (essentially the Harbour and Caravan Site). All this follows an extensive consultation which showed the strength of feeling in our community.

On 6th February, over 120 members of the public attended a meeting where representatives from Waveney and Southwold Town Council answered questions and presented their ideas for the harbour. Assurances given included a ‘categoric’ assurance that the harbour lands, including the caravan site, would not be sold, that surpluses from the harbour lands, including monies from the caravan site, are ring-fenced and will be used within the harbour. There was also acknowledgement of the need for maintenance and a proper programme for the Blyth estuary.

There were over 145 responses to Waveney’s Consultation Questions, and the Society made a formal written representation. Although there was support for a proper governance structure (with the necessary expertise and with guaranteed local involvement and independence) there was concern over the lack of detail provided by Waveney. Recurrent issues were that the Harbour Lands must never be sold, that all income must be ring-fenced for the harbour, that there must be more transparency and accountability and that local views and the needs of the harbour users must prevail.

We believe recent meetings of Southwold Town Council and other stakeholders have shown an emerging degree of consensus on these issues, which is to be welcomed. The primary objective must be to achieve the best possible governance model to reflect the unique nature of the Harbour Lands, (a ‘Southwold model’) and ensure proper management of the Harbour Lands and the estuary so that their long-term viability is assured. Local representation and independence is vital, as is the need for progress to be made now. We cannot have more years of inaction that risk loss of business and rising sea levels literally eroding away our harbour, which is such a vital resource in our community.

The Society will continue to press the Joint Committee to ensure they take proper consideration of the consultation responses and keep the assurances already given. We do have concerns that the Joint Committees’ recent recommendations (6th March) have watered down some of the core issues and failed to address others entirely. For example, they recommend only to protect ‘surplus’ income from the Harbour Lands, and to ‘preserve the Harbour Lands in the ownership of WDC…’ During the further consultation on the new management body to succeed the Joint Committee, we will continue to argue that the ring-fencing of income, the public ownership of the Harbour Lands in perpetuity, and local representation and independence must all be guaranteed, and that there must be a joined-up approach to the management of the harbour and the estuary.

Fiona Taylor, Committee Member