Inquiry: 'Soaring costs' denied

Fears a £53.7m council and science headquarters planned for Lowestoft will be hampered by soaring costs, experienced by high profile projects like Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome, have been vehemently denied during the second day of a public inquiry.

Fears a £53.7m council and science headquarters planned for Lowestoft will be hampered by soaring costs, experienced by high profile projects like Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome, were vehemently refuted during a public inquiry.

The potential for the Waveney Campus project's budget to spiral out of control was raised by a barrister representing businesses opposed to being forced off the proposed site with compulsory purchase orders.

Martin Edwards said: “It is a feature of construction projects that costs do get out of control. One thinks of the Dome, the Olympic Games and Wembley stadium.”

He put it to Brian Robinson, commercial director of the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas): “If costs were to escalate for unforeseen reasons, there may be a time when you say you are not prepared to go over £53m and the campus project will not go ahead.”

Mr Robinson insisted rising costs would not derail the project because a series of measures had been put in place to ensure the predicted outlay remained at that level.

He explained that legal agreements had already been signed with the other campus partners, Waveney District and Suffolk County councils, and that the project was subject to regular cost reviews with managers told not to exceed £53.7m.

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“When we developed this project, affordability was very high on our agenda,” he added.

The three partners want to build new offices for 1,000 staff by the banks of Lake Lothing, on land off Riverside Road, by the spring of 2010. They joined forces after revealing their current buildings were no longer fit for purpose.

The building will be owned by Waveney District Council, which will take out a loan to cover the construction costs. The money will be paid back through the partners' existing revenue budgets and receipts from the sale of their current buildings.

They identified that the only suitable site was land at the Riverside Business Park, but many traders there have objected to being served with compulsory purchase orders, which sparked this week's public inquiry being held at the Hotel Victoria, in Lowestoft.

Mr Robinson explained that, because of the nature of its work, Government-owned Cefas needed to have a waterfront site. Other sites in the town had also been ruled out for other factors, including cost and poor access.

Among those sites was the former Shell base, off Commercial Road, where the cost of demolishing existing buildings was estimated at £8m. A further £4½m would have been needed to build a level crossing over the railway line and to upgrade a road.

The idea of building the campus on the Jeld Wen site, next to the Riverside Business Park, was also ditched because the terms of the current lease in place there would make it too expensive to buy-out.

Mr Robinson predicted the Waveney Campus project would promote regeneration and job creation. He revealed Cefas was working on setting up partnerships with the new University Campus Suffolk and the Orbis centre, which will house offshore energy companies, at a new building being built at Ness Point in Lowestoft.

The inquiry continues today.