Shared council office plan for Lowestoft is approved
A major plan to build shared council offices in the south of Lowestoft to house 500 workers has been given the green light tonight.
Waveney District Council's development control committee voted in favour of the construction of a £13.6m office overlooking Lake Lothing by Riverside Road.
Now planning permission has been granted the project will see workers from the district council and Suffolk County Council relocate from 10 offices across the town which are said not to be fit for purpose, including the town's seat of democracy at Lowestoft Town Hall, to the new building from early 2015.
Both councils say the shared accommodation will save taxpayers £3m over 10 years in maintenance costs and will boost the regeneration of the Kirkley waterfront area.
However some councillors on the planning committee did raise strong objections to the move as they said it will impact adversely on Lowestoft town centre's economy by taking people away from it and the new site's 200 car parking spaces were not suitable and appeared to be a form of subsidy for staff.
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Explaining the benefits of the shared accommodation project at tonight's meeting was Peter Revell, project manager.
He said: 'From an economic sustainability perspective we have a scheme that generates significant savings for the public purse over a period of time.
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'This is also a wonderful opportunity for both councils to come together and integrate the way they deliver services.
'The scheme creates regeneration opportunities both in the new location and the existing ones.'
However Julian Swainson, district councillor for Lowestoft's Harbour Ward, said the new plan presented a poor image as it resembled a 'box surrounded by a car park', which 'subsidised' parking for staff and councillors.
He said: 'I am a bit concerned about the direction we are heading here. There are unanswered questions laying in the air. It is a lost opportunity in design terms.'
Graham Elliott, ward member for Beccles North, said that once staff relocated to the Riverside Road development they would not go into town at lunch times and for shopping and the only beneficiary would be the neighbouring Asda store on Horn Hill.
Mr Elliott said: 'I am particularly concerned about the impact on the town centre. I think it ( the new office site) is in the wrong location.'
Among the majority of councillors speaking in support of the move was Tony Goldson, who represents Halesworth.
He said: 'It is going to give our staff a nice working environment.'
The committee heard from Frank Joyce of Lowestoft Coalition Against the Cuts which had lodged its objections to the plans by claiming no proper assessment had been made on the impact on the town centre, there were suitable locations for a shared office in the heart of Lowestoft and while the fate of Lowestoft Town Hall was still uncertain no decision should be made.
Waveney District Council says a feasibility study had ruled out other sites in the town centre because of their size and accessibility, it recognised the town hall is a heritage asset and no impact assessment on the town centre was needed under planning rules.
Both councils are jointly funding the move by pumping in more than £6m each to the shared office.
After tonight's meeting Colin Noble, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for finance and property, said: 'This is an important development for Lowestoft and marks a key milestone for the economic regeneration of the Kirkley Waterfront.
'Not only will this enable us to deliver services more effectively and efficiently for the benefit of Lowestoft, we'll also be able to significantly reduce the cost to taxpayers during the next decade.'
As part of the approved plans a new shared customer services base will be created on the site of the current Marina Centre in the town centre.
Tonight also saw the development control committee pass plans for a £700,000 scheme to provide new floodlit all-weather pitches at the Walmer Road recreation ground in south Lowestoft.
The proposals were submitted by Kirkley and Pakefield Community Sport and Social Club.
Neighbours had raised objections that the new facilities would create a noise nuisance.
The Football Association has offered to pay £650,000 towards the cost of the new facilities, which will allow hundreds of more children to train during the winter,