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Wisbech Castle ‘live in’ caretaker councillor resigns from council

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A Wisbech town councillor – who has spent two years as the “live in” caretaker at Wisbech Castle – has resigned from the council.

David Topgood has not given a reason publicly for his decision to quit, but it will not mean a by election.

With all seats on the town council up for re-election next May, it is – just- outside the period to force a by election.

Instead, the Tory run council will be able to co-opt, if they wish, a replacement until May.

But Cllr Topgood has not quit his other role – as a Fenland District Council councillor for the same ward.

He continues to draw his £5,000 a year allowance. He was elected unopposed in 2019.

Cllr Topgood, who gives his home address as The Castle, Museum Square, on his register of interests had, until his resignation, used his one-time home address in Holmes Drive on his town council register of interests.

Wisbech Castle

Cllr Topgood has offered no reason for his sudden departure from the town council, but he has recently taken up management of a Wisbech pub, The Globe.

A notice published by Fenland District Council on behalf of Wisbech Town Council says that:

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that Wisbech Town Council hereby declares that the office of councillor for the Staithe Ward previously held by David Topgood is vacant.

Accordingly, a casual vacancy exists in the office of councillor for the Town Council. In accordance with Section 89(3) of the Local Government Act 1972, where the vacancy occurs within six months before the day on which the councillor whose office is vacant would regularly have retired, an election shall not be held under Section 89(1) of the above Act, and the vacancy will be filled at the next ordinary election of councillors, which is on Thursday, 4 May 2023.

The Council may choose to co-opt someone to fill the vacancy for the intervening period. This notice is dated 17 November 2022. Clerk to the Wisbech Town Council.

In August 2021, years of wrangling over whether or not Cllr Dave Topgood lived at the castle permanently or just stayed on occasions– as the town council had always insisted – was settled.

Cllr Topgood at a civic event in Wisbech

“Councillor Topgood has been granted by the Wisbech Castle management committee a tenancy to occupy one room at Wisbech Castle,” said town clerk Terry Jordan.

2021 advertisement by the town council for volunteers to help at the castle

“This assists in his performance of the voluntary caretaker role.”

Mr Jordan said that Cllr Topgood also provides “additional security for the building and also generates a rental income for Wisbech Town Council (and, hence, of benefit to the local taxpayers).”

The town clerk added: “There is no need for the full council to ratify decisions made by the council’s service committees.”

Mr Jordan said the installation of a shower had been needed to make it habitable.

He said the building had not been suitable “for use as a person’s permanent residence because of the absence of sufficient washing facilities”.

“A decision had already been made in July 2019 that the toilet/washing facilities for volunteers at Wisbech Castle be improved,” he added.

“The work required now accords with that decision.”

Mr Jordan declined to comment on how much rent Cllr Topgood was asked to pay but other councillors suggested it was around £100 a week inclusive of utility bills.

“I can, say, however, that the tenancy is subject to a ‘market’ rent,” he said.

Ironically at the meeting which allowed him to continue living there, and on the proposal of Cllr Steve Tierney and seconded by Cllr Billy Rackley, Cllr Topgood was elected chair of the castle management committee.

Mr Jordan had also penned a report which felt that renting a room was a good idea “to generate an income for the council”.

Independent town district councillor Dave Patrick said he had always objected to an elected councillor being offered accommodation at Wisbech Castle.

“You would think with what happened to the county council and farmgate, any council would think twice about letting a councillor live in a council owned asset.”

The campaign to acquire the lease of the castle on behalf of the town council from the county council was led by then town council leader Samantha Hoy.

In recent times it has rarely been open to visitors (lack of volunteers has been offered as the reason).

However, Cllr Topgood has been a stalwart member of the small team that have overseen works to the garden and has helped co-ordinate several events held there.

Weddings and castle ghost nights have been the main income spinner for the castle.

 

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