Future of Lowestoft Town Hall discussed

AN ambitious scheme to relocate council staff from Lowestoft Town Hall to the site of the controversial Waveney Campus development took a step forward this week.

On Tuesday night, Waveney District Council's cabinet approved plans to create a detailed business case that will examine the proposed move to new offices which could be built on the site next to Lake Lothing.

As revealed by The Journal last week, the Lowestoft Riverside Road Office Accommodation Project could see Waveney and Suffolk County Council staff sharing the new building, with both authorities setting aside �5m to provide new office space for their staff in Lowestoft.

But as the first stage of the council staff relocation plan was agreed, there were concerns raised over the long-term future of the town hall.

The cabinet heard the building in High Street was no longer 'fit for purpose' in providing 21st century facilities for Waveney's officers and staff.

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But although it was said it would cost too much to bring it up to an acceptable standard for staff, council leader Colin Law said he was 'very sympathetic' to calls for the building to be retained as part of the town's heritage.

Mr Law made his comments after the leader of the opposition Labour group, Julian Swainson, and Peter Collecott, the council's independent chairman, raised concerns over the hall's future if ceased to serve as the council's base.

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Mr Swainson said: 'I am not the biggest fan of this building, but it does have an affection in the hearts of people. What is going to happen to this building? People do care about all our heritage.'

Mr Collecott added: 'I think it is an iconic building. It has got a unique history. It is unique in its fabric. It is part of our heritage. We need to do something to keep that for future generations.'

During the meeting, the state of the town hall and other offices were criticised by Mike Barnard, portfolio holder for resources, who said he was 'quite appalled' by the conditions faced by staff, and Michael Ladd, cabinet member without portfolio, who said the conditions were a 'disgrace'.

Mr Law said he was sympathetic to the pleas to preserve the town hall in some way. But he added: 'We need to move into a 21st century building that is fit for purpose.

'The building (the town hall) unfortunately requires further investment, significant investment, to make it fit for purpose.'

The next stage of the �8.9m Riverside Road project will see the completed business case due to come before the council's cabinet in September after being looked at by the overview and scrutiny committee.

Mr Swainson said the business case and the overall plans should only be approved if they improved conditions for staff and users, saved tax payers' money and were shown to be environmentally friendly.

Mr Law said: 'Any decision to commence this project will only be taken if both Suffolk County Council and Waveney are entirely satisfied that there is a clear business case for the project and that it comes with assurances about the efficiencies and savings that would be created.'

Any move from Lowestoft Town Hall would see front-line staff who deal with the public relocate to the Marina Centre off London Road North.'

As reported in last week's Journal the new shared offices could cost up to �8.9m and work could start on them next year if approved. It could have 200 car parking spaces.

The council says it is eying up the land for the offices as it had compulsorily purchased the area for the Waveney Campus, which would have been a shared headquarters for both councils and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The Waveney Campus project had been due to cost �53m to build but was ditched two and half years ago due to challenging economic conditions.

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