Jobs the focus of planning battle

The future of hundreds of jobs in Lowestoft played a pivotal role at the launch of a public inquiry into controversial plans to build a £54m council and science headquarters in the town.

The future of hundreds of jobs in Lowestoft played a pivotal role at the launch of a public inquiry into controversial plans to build a £54m council and scientific headquarters in the town.

The Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) insists it will be forced to take more than 300 workers out of the town unless the state-of-the-art building is allowed to go ahead.

But a barrister representing existing businesses on land earmarked for the development says scores of jobs could also be lost if they are forced off the site.

Yesterday, representatives from both sides met head-on for the first day of a hearing to determine if compulsory purchase orders issued to several business owners should stand.

Cefas has joined forces with Waveney District Council and Suffolk County Council to try to build the new HQ, known as the Waveney Campus, by the banks of Lake Lothing, off Riverside Road. It would house 1,000 staff and is planned to open in 2010.

As well as preserving jobs, the partners say Cefas will bring a further 80 posts to Lowestoft, and they claim the project will spark further regeneration in deprived Kirkley ward.

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However, the legal team

representing nine objectors from the Riverside Business Park insisted there was no proof the project would

spark a wider economic boom and warned it would put the future

of existing businesses in peril.

Opening the inquiry at the Hotel Victoria, Lowestoft, barrister Harriet Townsend, for the Campus partners, said the buildings now occupied by the councils and Cefas were not fit for purpose.

"The maintenance needs of the various buildings are an ongoing and unaffordable expense for the public purse," she said. "Cefas does not expect to remain in Lowestoft if the project fails because there is no other site that meets the business needs of the organisation.

"The development will deliver year- on-year revenue savings and set the standards for sustainable development elsewhere in Lowestoft.

"The project will bring a very significant benefit. It will raise land values and act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area."

The partners' case was further stated by Waveney council corporate director Stephen Archer, who then came under lengthy cross-examination from the objectors' barrister, Martin Edwards.

Mr Edwards said that, while his clients had been offered help by the district council to find new sites, there was the potential for them to close or move out of Lowestoft with the loss of 130 jobs.

"Isn't it a strange form of regeneration that starts out by potentially extinguishing 130 jobs?" he asked.

"I suggest to you that you can't show… that this proposal will lead to an improvement to the social, environmental and economic well-being of this area. In fact, it could be counter-productive."

Mr Archer insisted the Waveney Campus would have a positive impact and said the benefit of keeping Cefas jobs in the town, which he estimated to be worth £30m a year to the area's economy, was of greater benefit than other factors.

The hearing, before government-appointed planning inspector Richard Clegg, continues today.