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Parish council asks for help to finance divested county park

PUBLISHED: 08:00 13 December 2014

Long Melford Open Spaces group volunteers at work in the country park

Long Melford Open Spaces group volunteers at work in the country park

Archant

A country park which was taken over by a parish council two years ago has become “a liability” according to the organisation’s chairman.

Because of budget cuts, Suffolk County Council wanted to transfer ownership of the former Rodbridge picnic site in Long Melford back to the local community.

So in May 2012, the site was renamed Long Melford Country Park and a volunteer group was set up to manage it on behalf of the parish council, which took on the lease.

The group has since put in hundreds of hours of work clearing the area to make it accessible to walkers and cyclists.

But parish council chairman Peter Turner said running costs had turned out to be much “higher than expected” and he is calling on the county council to help make the park sustainable.

He said: “At the time when the transfer of the lease was negotiated, none of us realised that it was going to be a liability.

“It’s not until you fully take responsibility for a place that you realise what you have got yourself into.

“We are now two or three years down the line so we have a clear idea of general running costs. We have inherited a considerable number of mature trees and running cost have become a significant issue.”

The parish council is currently facing several financial challenges. Most of the village street lights, which it owns, are more than 50 years old and desperately need replacing at an estimated cost of £200,000.

Also since Babergh District Council decided to close the village toilets, the parish took them on at a cost of between £9,000 and £12,000 per year just to keep them clean.

Mr Turner added: “We are really lucky to have some fantastic facilities and we don’t want to give up on any key resources, but things have caught up with us and we have to be sensible.

“I believe the county council has a moral obligation to help us reduce running costs, come up with a plan to generate income and make the park sustainable.”

The site is not big enough to become a venue for spectator events but one idea being considered is a park café.

A spokesman for the county council said they had agreed to meet with Long Melford Parish Council to better understand the issues concerning the country park.

He said: “The community has done an excellent job in maintaining and improving the site since taking it on.

“We will seek to find ways to give all the advice we possibly can to the parish with ongoing management of the park, ensuring this can be carried out as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

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