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Announcement archives will be moved to Ipswich despite campaign sparks anger

PUBLISHED: 14:54 06 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:15 06 August 2018

Lowestoft  library and record office.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Lowestoft library and record office. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

The decision to move some of Lowestoft Record Office's collections to Ipswich prior to the start of a public consultation over their future has been branded a "betrayal" by opponents.

Members of the Save Our Record Office group. Picture: Save Our Record OfficeMembers of the Save Our Record Office group. Picture: Save Our Record Office

The decision to move some of Lowestoft Record Office’s collections to Ipswich prior to the start of a public consultation over their future has been branded a “betrayal” by opponents.

The future of archives held in the record office is unclear after the announcement the current facility would be replaced with an unmanned access point with archives moved to the £20m purpose-built storage facility The Hold.

In a U-turn in May, Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council (SCC), said plans would be put in place to find “a long-term solution for the sustainable storage of archives in the north of the county”.

However, in an email sent to participants in the pre-engagement workshops, it was made clear there would be no consultation or plans to keep a strong room facility in Lowestoft, with any future facility to only include collections which can be stored safely on open shelves.

Paul West. Picture: Suffolk County CouncilPaul West. Picture: Suffolk County Council

The email, sent on August 1 and seen by this newspaper, states the council had developed a business case for retaining a strong room in Lowestoft, but that it was not a “viable option financially” and the consultation would not cover that possibility.

The Waveney Labour Party said they were disappointed in the decision, and called for a suspension of any records being moved to Ipswich.

A spokesman said: “This is a betrayal of the trust of all those groups who were hoping that their voices would be heard through the consultation.

“This is not our understanding of the pledge made by Matthew Hicks, leader of SCC, on his very recent visit to Lowestoft.”

“This is totally unacceptable and an underhand move by the Conservatives. We do not want to see parts of our local heritage disappear down the A12 to distant Ipswich.”

The campaign group Save Our Record Office said: “With this action, these officers are trying to pre-empt the outcome of the public consultation, the joint scrutiny, and the formal complaints that we submitted back in April.

“We consider this to be subversion of the local democratic process.”

Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich and portfolio holder for The Hold, said a new strong room would cost around £3.3m.

He said: “I felt that if we consulted on such a proposal it is holding out unrealistic hope that the funding would be found for that and even if funding was available when there would already be 20 years capacity at the Hold, would that be the best use of money?

“If we had gone down the alternative route we probably would have had to have found it [the money] ourselves. I think we have got the best deal for tax payers in Suffolk. But obviously there is another school of thought but on balance I believe we have taken the right route.”

He also revealed further details of the future of the record office in Lowestoft and said there would not be a temporary closure of the office at any point, with any records due to be moved only to do so once The Hold is ready, and said staffing for 30-hours a week has been set aside for the facility.

The decision on which collections will remain in Lowestoft will be made by archivists and informed by the consultation, due to launch late-August/early-September.

He said: “The decision about which collection goes into a strong room will be taken by archivists within the SRO service. Anything that can be kept on the open shelves will be.

“If any vulnerable collections can be reclassified and kept on open shelves will be.”

He added: “It is our intention that the new transformed service in Lowestoft will be the first part of the project that will be up and running.

“When the vulnerable material goes to The Hold the new service in Lowestoft is already up and running so the transition is small.”

Responding to concerns about the time needed to digitise records, Mr West said some of the most popular collections were digitised, but admitted the process is a long one and that some archives will never be digitised.

He also claimed the move of records to The Hold would benefit and reach more people in Suffolk despite the reduction in the service available in Lowestoft.

He said: “What I want to do is see Suffolk have a better service which reaches more of the people of Suffolk, not only a service which addresses the needs of the relatively small number of people who use Records Offices in Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.

“Within four years of The Hold project being finished I want to see more people engaging with their history than is currently the case.”

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