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Will Lowestoft and King's Lynn bounce back from campus setbacks?

PUBLISHED: 15:00 22 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:39 06 July 2010

Shaun Lowthorpe

They are two port towns which had high hopes of transforming themselves on the back of multi-million pound regeneration projects. But will recent setbacks at the College of West Anglia and the Waveney Campus shatter the dreams of King's Lynn and Lowestoft? Public affairs correspondent Shaun Lowthorpe reports



After years of battling against the economic doldrums, hopes were high that King's Lynn and Lowestoft could be helped to turn the corner with ambitious projects to transform both towns.

They are two port towns which had high hopes of transforming themselves on the back of multi-million pound regeneration projects. But will recent setbacks at the College of West Anglia and the Waveney Campus shatter the dreams of King's Lynn and Lowestoft? Public affairs correspondent Shaun Lowthorpe reports

After years of battling against the economic doldrums, hopes were high that King's Lynn and Lowestoft could be helped to turn the corner with ambitious projects to transform both towns.

With traditional industries linked to food processing, fishing and shipping that were struggling, the key to helping both carve out successful futures lay in schemes helping to build the skills of the future workforce to take on new hi-tech jobs.

In King's Lynn the College of West Anglia had planned to build a flagship campus on the so-called Nar Ouse Regeneration Area, until the Learning and Skills Council pulled the plug on the funding after realising it had pledged more than it had budgeted for.

While in Lowestoft the so-called Waveney Campus scheme, a partnership between the district council, Suffolk County Council, and Cefas, to relocate on Riverside Road also stalled last week after the two councils pulled out.

The backdrop to both decisions just adds to the doom and gloom.

At Lowestoft, engineering firm SLP has just gone into administration, and another firm Jen Weld has also announced it will close its factory next year.

In King's Lynn a £15m masterplan scheme to regenerate the Waterfront is on hold because of the downturn, and the shock of the football club going into administration is also continuing to be felt.

And while the government announces support for major projects such as the Norwich Northern Development Road, some are wondering if these two towns are set to lose out again.

Where has it all gone wrong?

The recession is the backdrop to the problems, but issues locally have also come in to play.

In Lowestoft, there had always been nervousness about the Campus scheme - which was effectively a project to build a new combined town hall, shared with the scientists, who would have the majority stake.

It is understood that many of the issues were linked to reservations on the Cefas side, and particularly the Department Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about scientific researchers potentially sharing space with public facing services, such as the two councils but also if talks had proved successful, the police and NHS.

Cefas also wanted to get on with it, but the councils, worried about their finances in the wake of possible cuts in government grant, wanted to wait.

Philip Watkins, chief executive of First East, which promotes urban regeneration in Yarmouth and Lowestoft said the key issue now was keeping Cefas, which employs 400 people in Lowestoft.

“What's likely to emerge from this decision is that Cefas will look at the same site but on their own,” Mr Watkins said. “There is a common link in that the state of the economy which is forcing an examination of priorities everywhere. It's not terminal, that's the key message.

Waveney Council leader Mark Bee, whose handling of the project has been attacked by rival politicians including Labour MP Bob Blizzard as “ill-considered” said the council had been keen to pursue the project but had been hit by circumstances beyond its control.

“I think people of Lowestoft are fairly resilient,” he added. “I don't think people feel there is a sense of gloom, but there is a grittiness. Waveney and Lowestoft has been through a recession for a long time and we are a bit more cushioned.”

Nick Daubney, leader of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, said the recession had definitely played a part, but it was wrong to see the picture as one of complete doom and gloom.

“The College of West Anglia is completely different, that was nothing to do with the recession,” Mr Daubney said. “The Learning and Skills Council were just incapable, they promised more money than they had got. Even if the economy was booming, that was going to go wrong.

“We have found a way through because we are now using that land for a new academy, so there are still going to be first class facilities on that site.

“What has been hit is the regeneration of the Waterfront. I don't think anything has crashed, it's just that it's going to take longer and we can't proceed as fast as we wanted to because it has to attract significant private investment.

“A lot of King's Lynn industry is performing extremely well at the moment, the specialist engineering companies are heavily involved in exports and they are doing very well. Our shopping figures are very good.

“We are getting along nicely with our South Lynn regeneration - the enterprise centre is going well and the next phase of housing is going ahead, private developers are still going ahead with their plans.

George Bennett, head of development at the East of England Development Agency, said Lowestoft was well placed to weather the storm because of the potential of the offshore energy industry and moves to see ships supplying Sizewell docking in the port. Meanwhile King's Lynn will benefit from the building of Palm Paper - Europe's biggest paper making mill.

“The availability of public sector funding is going to be restricted in the next three years than it was in the three years before,” Mr Bennett said. “There has always been a gap in the viability of some of these schemes.

“It's just being done in smaller phases, but keeping true to our original vision.”


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