Proposed changes to the lease arrangement at Clare Castle Country Park (CCCP) has sparked a dispute which saw tempers erupt at a town council meeting last week.
Divisions within the council were on show at a packed Old School Community Centre on Thursday, June 15, relating to a request by the CCCP Trust to adjust the lease to meet the requirements for its application for £1.5 million in grant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
It was due to be considered at the meeting, but a vote to defer the decision until July, so councillors could seek more information and legal advice, was unanimously approved, after a motion was put forward by chairman Paul Bishop.
However, tensions flared over the contents of a flyer handed out in the days leading up to the meeting by concerned residents, including two town councillors, alleging that the lease change, if approved, would see Clare residents’ ownership of the park relinquished.
This claim was rejected by the trust chairman Geoffrey Bray, and by a majority of councillors, who accused colleagues of “shameful behaviour” for circulating “misinformation”.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Bray dismissed accusations of a “freehold giveaway” as “nonsense”, stating the CCCP Trust was not seeking to change the basic nature of the lease, and the proposed changes were the minimum the HLF would accept, so it had the security it needed to be able to provide the grant.
“The ownership of the park will remain with the town council at all times. There is no question of the freehold passing to the trust or anyone else,” said Mr Bray.
“The statement in the recently circulated note that the trustees now need control of the freehold is totally untrue.
“This sort of malicious disinformation breaches the right of the trust to quiet enjoyment, as set out under section 22 of the lease.
“The courts treat this as a serious matter.”
But a minority of councillors claimed the matter was not receiving enough scrutiny and questioned the transparency of the process – a concern echoed by several members of the public.
Speaking after the meeting, Steve Kimminau, one of the councillors who helped distribute the flyer, said that, in his view as a private citizen, there had been an apparent attempt to rush the issue, and more time was needed to research any implications.
“I believe this whole issue must have been known about months in advance, and could have been discussed at leisure if there was openness and transparency,” he said.
“It is in the interests of everyone to get to the bottom of the decisions that need to be made.”