Did we learn anything from the Lowestoft Conference? Council Leader Colin Law believes that “people do not fully understand what we are trying to achieve”. That might sometimes be true, but when they do understand they often don’t like what they hear and they also believe that the Council will carry on regardless. The hoped for third crossing, not the answer to all our ills but surely it could be part of the answer, remains a shape shifting dream with no plan, no start date and no funding. By contrast the Council’s plans for the old Sanyo and Brooke Marine sites on the south side of Lake Lothing are being fast tracked. Waveney District Council was able to find £2.4m and do a deal to buy the Sanyo site in little more than days.
The buildings are to be demolished, the docks filled in and the land devoted to housing as part of the Council’s Area Action Plan. We all understand that. But could not the existing industrial buildings, the offices and workshops with their an infrastructure of roads, power and sewers, be developed as small industrial units? Couldn’t the docks be brought back into use? The land suitable for housing could still be used.
The question blew up at the Lowestoft Conference with heated exchanges involving Colin Law and property developer and industrialist Peter Colby. Colby wants to buy and develop both sites. He believes that his proposals are viable, would create jobs and, of course, be profitable for himself. That is what he does. I don’t know how Colby earned his money but he is willing to spend it on this development.
The sites also have problems with contamination and there are flood risks, both of which could involve sizeable costs for the Council and any potential house builder. The viability of the whole house building programme on that site has been questioned by local developers Badger Building. In this case “the people” do fully understand what the Council is trying to do and, I would say, they don’t like it.
Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts wants a re-examination which considers redevelopment rather than demolition. These waterfront sites could be priceless as part of the development of the town’s engineering and manufacturing economy. What is the Council’s objection other than that it isn’t in the plan? What is the rush and what is the risk when Colby wants to spend his own money? If Waveney District Council can afford to employ a barrister to get a second opinion on the Tesco store then it can employ outside expertise to look at the the redevelopment option. The people of Lowestoft do understand this issue. I believe that they want jobs and not housing on these sites. Whatever the history between the two, the Council should begin by talking to Peter Colby.
Will the Council’s Labour Group, who were unaware that Colby already had an offer on the table when they agreed to the Council’s purchase of the Sanyo site, press more forcefully for a reassessment? Perhaps they should lodge a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about the Tory administration’s behaviour? They shouldn’t give up. The town desperately needs and wants jobs. Once the bulldozers move in, and they are poised to do so, it will be too late. Council elections are on the horizon. Failed councillors, of whatever party, are likely to be history as well.