Town council calls emergency meeting in bid to save Wisbech Castle - but criticism over time scales and over who knew when

Wisbech Castle

Wisbech Castle - Credit: Archant

An emergency meeting of Wisbech Town Council will take place on Monday to decide if they should make a bid for Wisbech Castle.

The hastily arranged meeting has been called after the county council announced it wants a buyer found by the end of September.

The decision to sell it off with such a tight deadline angered some local councillors – particularly Fenland district councillor Michelle Tanfield.

She is the portfolio holder for tourism yet only found about the sale when I broke the story on Friday evening on our website. Chief officers at Fenland Council knew of the pending sale – and so did town council leader David Oliver but many others were kept in the dark.

Through social media Cllr Tanfield expressed surprise at not being informed earlier – a view shared by Wisbech councillor Steve Tierney.

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“I am behind Michelle Tanfield 100 per cent in challenging FDC officers about why they think this is OK,” he posted on Twitter.

Whittlesey town councillor Martin Curtis – a former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council- agreed, suggesting the implication was that Fenland Council had been asked if they were interested but shied away from it.

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“It is unacceptable FDC officers would make a decision like that without consulting the relevant cabinet officer,” he posted.

First clue that the centuries old castle was for sale came last week in a letter from Stephen Conrad, strategic asset manager for the county council.

He told some councillors and some community groups about a review by the county council that had concluded the castle “no longer has an operational service use”.

With financial constraints in the public sector the assets and investment committee had agreed to decide the castle’s fate in October and wanted “expressions of interest by the end of September”.

However any bid for the castle – whether to buy or lease it- would need confirmation of having the money to invest in it, be able to “reflect market value” for the property, and state uses and “the nature of the public benefit”.

Town and district councillor Virginia Bucknor said she hoped the emergency meeting would include current running costs and identify works required.

“It’s difficult to give any consideration if we have absolutely no idea what we or as part of a wider group could be taking on,” she said.

Steve Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs, believes the sale of the castle offers an opportunity consider links with the museum and re-developing the entire square.

“Wisbech Castle has been losing money for the county council for sometime and it is right they look at it,” he said.

“However it could be part of a scheme which brings the museum and castle together. “We should look to preserve the castle as a cultural hub at the centre of the town.”

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