Lowestoft Town Hall, the Grade 11 listed building which has served the town for over 150 years, is up for sale.
Tory Council leader Colin Law wants suggestions for its use, which he must then impose on the future owners. His ideas include “business space, cultural and heritage opportunities or residential units” to add to the earlier “small performance spaces”. The estate agents, our good friends Norfolk Property Services, say that “office and commercial uses would be valuable in maintaining the number of employees in the High Street during the day” (ie like the present Town Hall?) and suggest workspaces for small businesses and perhaps “the creative industries”. Local historian Ian Robb suggests either a museum or a community centre.
Councillor Law wants “genuine, viable ideas for the site”. Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts argued that the building was viable as a Town Hall and was essential in maintaining the viability of the High Street. The Council refused to discuss the Town Hall’s future when the decision to vacate it was debated. How could councillors consent to such a scheme with no idea of what to do with the building? Now they want us to tell them what to do with it. It is adding insult to injury.
Are any of these ideas viable? The Town Hall and two annexes are valued by our old friends Norfolk Property Services at £310,000, with half a million pounds of maintenance needed on the Town Hall alone over the next four years. At a minimum, the Council Chamber and the stained glass windows have to be preserved. Who would spend a million pounds on a listed site to provide performance spaces or a museum or a community centre or “cultural and heritage opportunities”? Isn’t the reality that the Town Hall will be sold to a property developer for flats?
Waveney District Council breached planning laws when it failed to conduct an impact assessment on its Riverside Road scheme. The scheme involves taking 500 jobs out of the town centre, including the Town Hall staff. Questioned by LCAC the Council replied: “This is being completed as part of the wider work stream and will be considered in line with the future of the town hall.” So where is it? High Street traders should be asking questions.