Waveney District Council could leave its base at Lowestoft Town Hall
PUBLISHED: 09:38 20 April 2012
LAND earmarked for the controversial Waveney Campus development in Lowestoft could become home to new council offices as part of a £9m scheme, it emerged this week.
The project – which could see a new shared office building constructed for Waveney District Council and Suffolk County Council staff on the run-down waterfront site – will be outlined to councillors next Tuesday.
The plans could also lead to the council leaving its long-established base at Lowestoft Town Hall.
News of the proposed development comes almost two-and-a-half years after the decision to scrap one of the most ambitious projects the east coast has seen in years – the multi-million pound Waveney Campus.
The ill-fated scheme to build new local government headquarters to house district and county council employees and staff from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) began in 2005.
But the landmark project – billed as a £53m centrepiece of regeneration in a neglected part of the town – fell through, with the three partner organisation citing “challenging economic conditions”.
Since the scheme was scrapped in December 2009, the two councils have been looking for alternative accommodation in Lowestoft, and in March 2010 Cefas announced it was staying at its long-standing headquarters at Pakefield Road and investing in improved working conditions for its staff.
At the time, Waveney’s then MP Bob Blizzard criticised the district council for wasting millions on the project. And upon hearing about the new scheme this week, he was incredulous.
Mr Blizzard, now Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, told The Journal: “In really tough times with very little public money about, we are being told by these two councils – which are making cuts in social care, the street lights are off at night and the weeds are overgrown – there is no money.
“To resurrect this campus process and spend more money – well its unbelievable. I think people will feel very angry when we have all these cuts and they want to spend money on this...
“The whole Campus project cost a lot of money and new council offices are the last thing we need. I think its really shocking to spend money on new council offices – and even waste money in these austere times,” Mr Blizzard added.
A report on the proposed “Lowestoft Riverside Road Office Accommodation Project” will be discussed by Waveney’s cabinet committee on Tuesday evening. Members will be told the report formally confirms “Waveney District Council’s shared desire, with Suffolk County Council, to provide alternative local government office accommodation in Lowestoft and to approve the undertaking of the relevant work required, in partnership with Suffolk County Council, to now develop a business case for this project”.
A council spokesman said the cabinet would be asked to approve “the development of a business case”.
“This is the first step which must be taken before any project can get under way and no final agreement to proceed with the development would be considered until later this year,” he added.
A detailed proposal document, compiled by the council, NPS Property Consultants and construction consultants Willmott Dixon, sets out the basic criteria for any new office complex, a proposed site plan and the likely costs.
It suggests the new offices – which could be built by the end of 2013 – would be housed in a three- and two-storey building that would include a new council chamber, parking for 200 cars, an electrical point for recharging battery-operated cars and meeting rooms. The main access to the site would be off Canning Road.
The document also proposes how improvements to other office buildings would be managed, with the objective of vacating the town hall in High Street – and allowing the historic building to be redeveloped.
The council spokesman added: “The long term plan is to vacate the town hall as it is becoming increasingly unsuitable as office accommodation. The possible future location of all staff, however, has yet to be agreed and is all part of the discussions that are under way as part of the planning process.”
Waveney’s leader Colin Law said: “Accommodation for Waveney staff is in a very poor condition and is simply not designed to meet the needs of a progressive, 21st century council. We have been considering alternative options for some years now and any solution must both suitable and affordable.
“It is now for cabinet to decide whether this could be the right solution and how we would proceed.”
Jane Storey, portfolio holder for resource management and transformation at the county council, which will discuss the proposals in May, said: “Joining forces and sharing facilities means we can improve the quality of office accommodation for our staff and at the same time bring overall costs down.”
Waveney District Council has confirmed that it acquired the land at Riverside Road, as part of the Campus project. “The council and Suffolk County Council have each allocated a budget sum of £5m within their respective forward capital programmes to address their accommodation needs in Lowestoft,” the Waveney spokesman added.
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