MP warns over cost of council offices

An MP has claimed that a development of new council offices in Lowestoft could mean that taxpayers face a bill of up to £685,000.The new offices for Waveney District Council, Suffolk County Council and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) are planned for the Riverside Business Park.

An MP has claimed that a development of new council offices in Lowestoft could mean that taxpayers face a bill of up to £685,000.

The new offices for Waveney District Council, Suffolk County Council and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) are planned for the Riverside Business Park. Local businesses are already unhappy at being forced to move off the site to make way for the £40m development.

Now Waveney MP Bob Blizzard says the councils could have to pay back up to £685,000 of European funding given in 1999, because the business park's purpose has changed - but the council disagrees.

A copy of the letter from the Government Office of the Eastern Region when the funding was offered says that some or all of the cash should be paid back if "during its economic life, the project is used for purposes other than those specified in the application".

Bob Blizzard who was council leader at the time, said the rules "would not have permitted the funds to be used to subsidise new council offices". He told the EDP: "The name of the game was business development to create new jobs. If the councils now remove businesses and occupy the site, I suspect that they will be in breach of that condition. I hope the council leadership will think again."

Waveney spokesman Phil Harris said: "These comments are clearly the MP's personal interpretation of the risk that the campus project faces. The condition referred to is a standard clause and says nothing specific about the Waveney Campus project.

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"We also have a copy of a letter from EEDA (East of England Development Agency) to the MP, dated January 19, in which they say, specifically about the £685,000 grant, 'Having reviewed the offer letter I can confirm that this funding offer contains no restrictions on the type of jobs created.'"

Cefas chief executive Mark Farrar said: "Cefas's existing laboratories in Lowestoft and Burnham are well past their useful lives and, if we are to deliver the scientific services that our customers need at competitive prices, then we do not have the option of continuing to operate our existing uneconomic buildings. After a thorough study we are convinced that the Waveney Campus offers Cefas an affordable solution that meets all of our objectives and offers value for money for the taxpayer.

"The Waveney Campus project is essential to the viability of our future business plans and to the planned relocation of 80 new science jobs into Lowestoft."