Shopping mall vision for car park sites in Lowestoft?

Lowestoft car parks.Whapload road car park. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Lowestoft car parks.Whapload road car park. Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

A new shopping mall could be created in Lowestoft town centre as part of a major review of car parking across Waveney.

Lowestoft car parks.Battery green Road Car Park. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Lowestoft car parks.Battery green Road Car Park. Picture: NICK BUTCHER - Credit: Nick Butcher

The proposals – to be discussed next week by district councillors – will cover more than 50 car parks and could see sites redeveloped for housing, retail or leisure use in bid to offset a fall in income from fees.

One option to be explored could see new charges introduced for on-street parking in some areas.

A meeting of Waveney's overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday will receive a report outlining the need for a strategic review to address a 'decline in town centre economies'.

The report, produced by a joint working group made up of officers from Waveney, Suffolk Coastal, and their operational partners Suffolk Coastal Services and Waveney Norse, is described as the 'largest, most comprehensive review' of car parking that they have ever undertaken.

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Among the ideas put forward are the possible redevelopment of the Battery Green multi-storey and Whapload Road car parks in Lowestoft into a 'premium retail and recreation attraction' dubbed the Sunrise Mall, which would be similar to Castle Mall and Chapelfield shopping centres in Norwich; and the closure of Belvedere Road car park – given there is already ample capacity in the area – for redevelopment as housing.

Also mooted is a joint application with Suffolk County Council to the Department for Transport to charge for on-street parking across Waveney, with enforcement by Waveney Norse.

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Other options are also to be considered for free car parks in Lowestoft, Wrentham, Beccles, Bungay and Southwold along with the possible disposal or redevelopment of under-performing charged-for car parks.

Although income from car parking has historically been one of the biggest sources of local revenue for Waveney – worth £1.5m to £1.8m per year – the report to councillors reveals that since 2010, this has been at a 'standstill', leaving the authority facing a budget shortfall of about £400,000.

It states: 'Over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a general decline in town centre activities, mainly due to an increase in out-of-town retailing and the growth of internet shopping. As a result, there has been a decline in visitors to town centres and their associated car parks.'

The report points to an 'urgent need' to offset this shortfall, with 15 car parks producing 88pc of the total income.

Stephen Ardley, the council's deputy leader, said radical action had to be considered and 'the sky is the limit'.

He said: 'The decline in car park revenue comes at a time when revenue generation has never been more important. The reduction in finance we receive from government due to their austerity measures places greater pressure on us to generate income and it is clear that we need to take bold steps forward to turn this situation around.'

He added: 'The working group have undertaken an extremely thorough study of car parking capacity and patterns in Waveney and this important work will enable us to better judge the appropriateness of fees and tariffs for each given facility. However, there is a far bigger picture in which all options are on the table. We could consider radical and exciting ways not just to revitalise the car parking provision but also encourage greater economic growth, jobs and housing.'

Labour group leader Tod Sullivan, who chairs the overview and scrutiny committee, said next week's meeting would consider the findings of the working group, but members would then carefully consider all the options before deciding the way forward in March.

Speaking about the Sunrise Mall idea, Mr Sullivan said he welcomed the 'ambitious plans,' but stressed: 'Like many people I will need convincing that this is realistic, achievable and has the support of experts, retailers, Lowestoft Vision and local people. I believe that the town centre has potential, but also that it needs first to be shown that we can realistically attract the inward investment needed.

'My main aim, with my committee, is to work across the council to ensure that we are proposing ambitious, useful, realistic and beneficial changes. Also we need to identify some schemes with the chance of making a speedy impact, I feel people are concerned that 'jam for tea tomorrow' is behind many current ideas and announcements.'

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