Council bosses celebrate start of new shared officer project in Lowestoft
Construction work got under way this week on a £13.6m waterfront office block in south Lowestoft that will provide a new shared home for two councils.
Once completed, the building by Lake Lothing in Riverside Road will house all staff employed by Waveney District Council and Suffolk County Council staff in Lowestoft, apart from their customer services employees.
The start of the work was marked by a ground-breaking ceremony on Wednesday, attended by Waveney’s leader Colin Law and his county council counterpart Mark Bee.
As they celebrated the start of the 13-month construction project, they explained the rationale of investing millions of pounds in the new building and relocating hundreds of staff there from Lowestoft Town Hall and 10 local offices at a time when public finances were being squeezed.
The two councils say moving to the new building will help them save up to £3m of tax-payers’ money over 10 years by allowing them to dispose of the 11 buildings which are deemed unfit for purpose or inefficient.
Mr Law said: “If we maintained our current buildings, it could have cost up to £16m over 10 years. At a time when funding for public organisations is under increasing pressure, we simply could not allow that to happen.
“Instead we are creating a win-win scenario which will provide appropriate accommodation for our hard-working staff while better protecting the important services we provide to the local community.”
Last year, a petition was set up opposing the office project by Frank Joyce, of Lowestoft Coalition Against the Cuts, who claimed no proper assessment had been made of the potential impact of moving so many staff away from the town centre. Concerns were also voiced over the future of the town hall, but the project was approved.
Mr Law said Lowestoft Town Hall would remain in council use for two years, and although talks would be taking place with developers about its future, the Grade II listed building would not be demolished and important architectural features, such as its stained glassed windows, would remain.
The new three-storey office block will have a conference room, a public café and parking for more than 200 vehicles. It is hoped that council meetings will be held there from April next year.
Both council leaders were keen to stress how the new building would also be a catalyst for regenerating the Riverside Road area.
Mr Bee said: “This is not about lavishing money on a new building. It is about working together with Waveney in a rational way with tax-payers money. If we have kept our buildings and spent millions on them, then that would have been a waste of tax-payers money.”
The building work on the new offices is being carried out by Kier construction group.
As part of the relocation plans, Waveney’s Marina Centre will be refurbished by 2015 so both sets of council customer service staff can work there.
Gareth Douce, a member of the Labour opposition group at Waveney, who is responsible for scrutinising the building process, said: “With a project of this scale, it is vital that it be delivered on time and within budget, I am pleased to be in a position to observe progress and hold decisions to account.”