Wisbech Town Council swapped one councillor for another to become caretaker of Wisbech Castle.
It follows the resignation of former town councillor (but Fenland district councillor) Dave Topgood.
Quite what has happened at Wisbech Castle remains unclear; control of the castle comes under the town centre committee and town clerk Mr Jordan has produced carefully worded minutes from its last meeting.
Chair is Cllr Steve Tierney (for a long period chair of the now disbanded castle committee) with Cllrs Sam Hoy, Peter Human and Mayor Susan Wallwork attending its last meeting earlier this month.
Two other councillors, Ben Prest and vice chair David Oliver were absent.
Mr Jordan informed the committee that Cllr Topgood had “given notice of termination of his residential tenancy of Room 2 at Wisbech Castle.
“And of his resignation from the role of voluntary caretaker at Wisbech Castle; a situation arising from personal/health reasons.
“Given the resignation of (Cllr) Topgood from the role of voluntary caretaker, the most recent paranormal investigation events had been supported by Cllr Tierney (chair of this committee), Cllr Trevor Ketteringham (a town councillor and volunteer at Wisbech Castle) and Mrs (Debbie) Clark, the council’s customer services and liaison officer) instead of Cllr Topgood.
“Consideration was given by members to filling the role of voluntary caretaker.”
Mr Jordan reports that Cllr Tierney proposed that this role be offered to Cllr Ketteringham, who had been a volunteer at Wisbech Castle since the town council’s acquisition of the building in 2018.
“When discussing this matter, members spoke very highly of Cllr Ketteringham and are in no doubt that he would perform this role both efficiently and effectively,” says the minutes.
“Members are extremely impressed with how Cllr Ketteringham had ‘stepped-up’ recently in assisting with the operation of Wisbech Castle; he had risen to the challenge admirably”.
Mr Jordan records that members commented that they “value the support that Cllr Ketteringham provides to the operational activities of Wisbech Town Council”.
Cllr Topgood, who still gives his home address as The Castle, Museum Square, on his register of interests at Fenland Council, last year took up a role at a Wisbech pub, The Globe.
When the town council originally offered him accommodation at the castle, Mr Jordan said his presence provided “additional security for the building and also generates a rental income for Wisbech Town Council (and, hence, of benefit to the local taxpayers).”
Mr Jordan has always declined to comment on how much rent Mr Topgood was asked but it is believed to be around £100 a week inclusive of utility bills.
“I can, say, however, that the tenancy is subject to a ‘market’ rent,” he said.
When Mr Topgood’s resignation was announced at town council last November, Cllr Tierney said he was “sad that, for health reasons, Cllr Topgood had found it necessary to resign his membership of the council”.
Minutes from that meeting explain that Cllr Tierney “expressed the opinion that everyone should condemn the actions of those persons who had treated Mr Topgood in ways which had impacted adversely upon his health.
“Cllr Tierney expressed the opinion, with which there was concurrence by others, that Cllr Topgood had been a good councillor and had contributed significantly to the operation, maintenance, and development of Wisbech Castle as a community asset.
“Cllr Peter Human expressed his disappointment that Mr Topgood felt that he could not continue as a member of the council.”
A curious twist to the minutes of the town centre committee was the vote on a proposal by Mayor Susan Wallwork and seconded by Cllr Sam Hoy to consider eviction proceedings if necessary.
The motion stated that although the actual eviction proceedings would be undertaken by the town clerk, it should be in “liaison” with the committee chair Cllr Steve Tierney and his vice chair Cllr David Oliver.
Mr Jordan was instructed to “take action that he deems appropriate or to obtain advice necessary to remedy any breaches of tenancy agreements relating to occupation of accommodation at Wisbech Castle (to include eviction proceedings if necessary)”.
At a town centre committee meeting earlier this year “members considered an issue in relation to the collection of a debt associated with use of Wisbech Castle and agreed a course of action to address the situation”.
Last August the town council was told by the clerk that numerous pre-booked events (including paranormal evenings, escape room events, weddings etc) are taking place at Wisbech Castle.
He said there was a “steady stream” of enquiries for holding events and activities at Wisbech Castle.
Cllr Topgood has declined to comment; he continues to draw his £5,000 a year allowance as a district councillor. He was elected unopposed in 2019 but is not thought to be a candidate for the Conservatives in May’s election.
Cllr Topgood was chair of the castle management committee for a short period.
A statement from the town council today revealed that a “spring clean” of Wisbech Castle and its grounds has begun and arrangements are being made for an Open Day on Sunday 9 April 2023.
“ The open day event will offer free guided tours of the house, gardens and vaults, with tea/coffee and cake available to purchase from the café,” said the statement.
“Bee hives (containing bees) had been in the grounds of Wisbech Castle (in October 2019) with the intention of delivering a British Black Bee Conservation Project.
“For various reasons, including the Covid-19 pandemic, this project had failed to ‘get off the ground’; however, the bees/hives had remained at Wisbech Castle.
“The clerk had taken advantage of the offer of a free-of-charge bee survey, and he shared, on 6 March 2023, the results of that survey with members of the Wisbech Town Centre Committee.
“The members of the committee expressed the opinion that, given that the British Black Bee Conservation Project is not being delivered but ongoing action is necessary to safeguard the bees’ welfare, it would be appropriate for the council to not retain the hives/bees.
“Consequently, the town clerk was delegated the authority to undertake, in liaison with the chairman and vice-chairman of this committee, the action that he deems appropriate to achieve a new home for the bees/hives.”
The council statement also revealed that the central heating boiler at Wisbech Castle is no longer working and quotations for its replacement have been sought.
“At its meeting on 6 March 2023 the Wisbech Town Centre Committee decided that, to preserve the fabric of the building, this work should take precedence over the proposed re-paving works,” said the statement.
“The committee agreed that the proposed paving works be ‘parked’ for the time being, possibly re-visiting this matter later in the year.”
The Wisbech Town Centre Committee also agreed on 6 March 2023 to enter into a tenancy arrangement for the Pump House to be used as a café.
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