They're fighting on the beaches in Walberswick (aka 'Notting Hill on Sea')

Council at war in coastal retreat favoured by the rich and famous

With its sweeping vistas of sand dunes leading to the North Sea and tea room-bordered village green, the closest that the Suffolk seaside village of Walberswick has traditionally come to confrontation is its renowned crabbing competition.

But more recently, the village dubbed Notting Hill on Sea due to its significant population of luminaries from film and fashion, has been in the grip of a ferocious row which, were it not so bitter, sounds like a script by comedy writer and longterm Walberswick visitor Richard Curtis.

The dispute centres on the parish council and a feud over its proceedings, in particular the handling of planning applications in this corner of East Anglia where an influx of monied second-home owners – from ITV director of television Peter Fincham to film-maker Paul Greengrass and radio DJ Simon Mayo – has seen property prices rocket beyond the reach of all but the wealthy.

The arrival of the metropolitan glitterati has brought undoubted glitz to Walberswick life, with Curtis recently donating an unfinished Blackadder script to a charity auction and a village fashion show for Comic Relief attracting garments from Twiggy, Geri Halliwell and Clive Anderson.

But while the great and the good come for the bracing sea air, local democracy in the village has come to resemble something closer to trench warfare.

After an acrimonious two and a half years in which both sides have traded accusations and insults - including a statement from one councillor suggesting he might use letters of complaint from one resident as toilet paper - the council decided two months ago to resign en masse.

The local authority, Suffolk Coastal District Council, has now taken the extraordinary step of appointing four unelected temporary councillors so the parish body can continue to function amid continuing anger and attempts to build a fragile peace.

Appealing for calm, one of the new co-opted representatives, Michael Gower, said: “Arguments have bedevilled the atmosphere in the village. A lot of hard words have been said in public and in private and we must find a way to move forward. This won’t be easy.”

The stand off is all the more remarkable given that Walberswick, which sits at the end of a country lane opposite the famously gentrified Suffolk resort of Southwold, is renowned for a well-heeled Arcadian existence which has drawn a host of celebrities to its weatherboarded seaside streets.

Mr Curtis, whose hits range from the Blackadder series to Love Actually, has a home in the village with his wife, Emma Freud, whose family has had a longstanding link with the area since Sigmund’s daughter Anna moved to Walberswick before the Second World War.

In their wake have followed a steady trickle of household names, including the film director Paul Greengrass and DJ Simon Mayo. Former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves regularly comperes the dog show at the annual summer fete.

But behind this air of rural calm, ill-feeling has festered.

None of the more famous Walberswick residents contacted by The Independent felt able to comment publicly on the parish council row.

On one side of the confrontation stands a group of residents who have raised concerns over the transparency of the council’s dealings and its treatment of planning applications. On the other side are longstanding members of the council who claim they have received “harassing” communications and been left unable to carry out their duties.

The dispute has its roots in claims that the parish council was failing to adhere to rules governing record keeping and the declaration and recording of interests on matters including planning applications.

In order to obtain information, village dissidents have submitted Freedom of Information requests. Councillors say the volume of those requests - claimed to exceed 100 - has threatened to overwhelm the body and imperiled its finances because of the amount of overtime paid to the parish clerk to process the documentation.

The bitterness caused by the row was highlighted in a complaint made by one homeowner about an alleged outburst against her during a public forum in the village hall from one of the parish councillors, Kevin Webb, after she raised questions about plans to build houses on a plot of land behind her house.

Suffolk Coastal council documents from the investigation into the complaint show Mr Webb, who died earlier this year, was claimed by the homeowner to have said: “You do nothing for this village, you moved here five years ago and have done nothing at all in that time. You are not on the parish register, you don’t vote here,  you have no right to tell us what to do. I went off to my holiday house up the river last week, it’s just as well I had a copy of your letter because we didn’t have any loo roll and it came in useful.”

Mr Webb, a lifelong Walberswick and a local builder, denied that he had raised his voice or attempted to bully the homeowner. When asked about his comments, a document setting out his response said: “He said he had not actually said that he would use [the] letter as toilet paper. However, he had implied that he might do so.”

The concerns of the residents have at least in part been found to have some justification.

An investigation by the standards committee of the local authority earlier this year found that the parish council had been “rather lax or careless” concerning the declaration and recording of interests at meetings. It also found that Mr Webb’s brother, David, a former chairman of the parish council, had breached conduct rules by failing to declare an interest relating to a planning application linked to his brother.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has also criticised the council for failing to disclose some requested information and failing to deal with some of the FOI requests in the appropriate manner.

One of the complainants, former City worker John McCarthy, said the requests he made were valid and that the resulting row had left him feeling ostracised from parts of the community. He said: “All I have sought is answers to requests that have been recognised as valid. The entire thing has been kafkaesque. I would like an apology from the council for the way I have been treated.”

Figures on both sides of the row denied that it amounted to a pitched battle between longterm residents of Walberswick and more recent incomers able to afford a property market of eye-watering intensity.

Properties in the village with a price tag below £350,000 are rare, effectively pricing young locals out of the market. One four-bedroom home bought for £175,000 in the mid-1990s sold recently for nearly £1m while a modest three-bedroom semi worth £250,000 in 2003 is currently on the market with a price tag of nearly £700,000.

The consultation period closed last week for a development of five new houses, each costing up to £700,000, on a plot of land previously occupied by a single property. One resident said: “There is a lot of money to be made out of building property in this village. The risk is that it is allowed at any cost to the environment and landscape.”

David Webb, who said he had had no financial interest in his brother’s business, said mistakes had been made by the parish council but claimed the row had been blown out of proportion.

He said: “It is a storm in a teacup that got out of hand.”

The councillor, who was elected unopposed to a vacant parish council seat earlier this year, added: “There is a big problem for the village about property prices. It is quite impossible for normal working people to buy a home. We did a survey which suggested about 43 per cent of properties are second homes or lets. Of course, the vast majority of people who have moved here are perfectly nice people. But there is an issue about keeping young people in the village.”

With plans afoot to move back to an elected parish council as soon as possible, it remains to be seen just when the hatchet will be buried in Walberswick.

In the meantime, those involved in the row can think only wistfully of the lines of verse that appeared in Punch magazine in 1880 extolling the village’s charms to Londoners. They read: “O Walberswick’s a village of very little tillage/ In the northern part of Suffolk, and it’s very picturesque/ And you fly from all the gritty, dirty by-ways of the City/ To forget, in pleasant rambles, dreary duties at the desk.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory