Council site funding may have to be handed back

Controversy continued to surround a plan for new council and government offices last night after further claims that funding for the site may have to be handed back.

Controversy continued to surround a plan for new council and government offices last night after further claims that funding for the site may have to be handed back.

Waveney District Council is leading plans for a £40m new office development, known as the Waveney Campus, which will house its own staff as well as Suffolk County Council offices and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

But Waveney MP Bob Blizzard believes that it is the wrong site and has sided with local businesses, which are unhappy about being forced to move off the Riverside Business Park to make way for the project.

As reported in the EDP on Wednesday, he has warned that £685,000 of European funding for the business park may have to be paid back, because the purpose of the scheme has changed. Waveney District Council insists that will not happen, but yesterday Mr Blizzard received a letter from the government office for the East of England (Go East), which says: “The secretary of state for communities and local government reserves the right to require all or part of the grant to be repaid if the project is used for purposes other than that specified in the application…You are correct that offices for the councils and government agency would not have qualified for funding.” It adds that a decision on whether to ask for the money back, known as “clawback”, cannot be made until it has the full details of the project.

Mr Blizzard said: “This upholds what I said, which is that if the council proceeds with the project on this site there is a real risk to the council tax payer that there will be clawback.”

Waveney District Council has consistently stressed the plans do not contravene the terms of the original grant, which was reiterated by its leader Mark Bee at a full meeting of councillors last night.

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Stressing that the campus would maintain and even grow Cefas's position in the town, he said: “It is about the creation of jobs and the retention of jobs in this area.”

Liberal Democrat leader David Young said he feared for the future of Cefas if the Waveney campus project did not go ahead.

“If we lost these jobs to Lowestoft, it would be catastrophic and irresponsible,” he added.

But Labour councillor Terry Kelly said: “The point is the Secretary of State can claw this money back. The idea was that we were given money for regenerating that area for business and now we are asking businesses to get off the site.”

There is also some dispute about whether Eeda has been approached about the project. In a letter written last month it said it had received no formal approach from Waveney to support the project, but the council insists this is incorrect and that Eeda is on the project board.