'An expensive experiment' - Council development criticised despite go ahead

Southwold town council

Southwold Town Council's plan for office space on the corner of Station Road and Blyth Road were criticised by councillor David Beavan. - Credit: Google/Archant

A bid to build new office space in Southwold has been slammed by its local councillor after changes to previous plans were approved.

Southwold Town Council had been granted planning consent in 2018 to demolish buildings on the corner of Station Road and Blyth Road in order to create a new mixed-use development.

The plans would have seen one building built with a shop on Station Road, with offices at the rear and a flat above, while a second building would include offices and a café, as well as a second-storey flat.

The site of the new enterprise hub on the corner of Blyth Road and Station Road, Southwold. Picture:

The site of the new enterprise hub on the corner of Blyth Road and Station Road, Southwold. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

A meeting of East Suffolk Council's northern planning committee on Tuesday, February 8, however, heard an amendment to the plans, which included removing the second building's flat and café, with the single-storey building now to be solely office space.

Fellow town councillor David Beavan, who excused himself from his role on the planning committee due to his interest in the application, had objected to the changes ahead of the meeting, and voiced his criticism to his fellow councillors.

David Beavan on the pier in Southwold.

East Suffolk councillor David Beavan - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

He said: "I support the town council's aims to bring more business to the town, especially all year round, but I'm opposed to this on economic grounds and I resigned from the board behind this project last year.

"I do not believe there is a market for nearly 100 offices here, plus the 30 desks being provided at the hospital development.

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"It is being driven, not by a market demand, but a fixation on offices.

"No businesses have signed up. Quite often a big business will come and be the flagship to encourage people to come, but the market has not responded to it.

"The loss of the first floor was actually because they ran out of money, which means they've had to cram all of the offices into lesser space, and they want to charge premium rents for it.

"There's an issue about car parking too, with 90-odd workers hopefully here and only 10 car parking spaces for this. 

"The worst thing I think is that there still isn't a business plan.

"This could really harm our town to have to carry something which has failed."

Jessica Jeans, Southwold Town Councillor, told the meeting demand was high for office space in the area, adding the changes were aimed at making the scheme more financially viable.

She said: "The town council has wanted to develop this site for at least 20 years and the only reason we are here today is because five years ago East Suffolk Council threw its considerable weight behind this project to enable us to get funding to deliver this.

"Now the project is managed by a board consisting of town councillors and East Suffolk senior officers.

"After obtaining the planning consent, we commissioned a respected business planning consultant to advise on whether or not the employment element of the scheme was still financially viable in light of the impact of Covid on the east Suffolk economy.

"What they told us was that office space was in high demand throughout east Suffolk for micro-businesses, which are the backbone of the local economy, and they also told us we would need to reduce the number of flats and get rid of the café if we were to make this financially viable because we needed more lettable office space to make this work.

"We have a very small, elderly population, and this is one of a number of regeneration projects to make our community a more vibrant one.

"Southwold is an employment magnet for the area - most of the people working here come from out of the area, some as far away as Great Yarmouth or Norwich.

"We want to have more people coming into the town." 

Councillors unanimously approved the amendment to the plan, noting there were no legal grounds for refusal.

Committee member Tony Goldson said: "I feel very sorry for Southwold Town Council on this one because their aspirations are there, but I think they are completely out of proportion.

"We have got office spaces in Halesworth not being taken, why would they go to Southwold when it's further away from any main routes?

"I admire them for what they are doing, but it is a hell of an expensive experiment."