Editors Saturday Comment
So on top of a substantial award of three quarters of a million pounds in Government funding to invest in capital projects in Lowestoft including regenerating the South Beach area, plans to build a £70 million third bridge, and funding previously awarded to regenerate the High Street, East Suffolk Council is now celebrating an incredible award of over £43 million by the Government – described as a ‘once in a century’ opportunity – to deliver tidal flood walls and a tidal barrier to protect and safeguard the future of ‘the most easterly town in Britain’.
It is the largest single award to any scheme in the country, as part of an immediate £170 million pot for national flood protection projects which can get underway by 2021.
ESC are trumpeting this as a scheme that ‘will provide certainty for the prospects of the town, galvanising its huge economic potential and heralding a bright and secure future for residents and businesses’.
Really? Lowestoft ? Huge economic potential?
Now the more shrewder observer who might have visited Lowestoft recently – as I did do before lockdown – and watch the tumbleweed blow up the deserted and boarded up High Street – before walking up to the Sparrows Nest gardens past rows and rows of boarded up pubs and shops in once substantial buildings , might be forgiven for wondering whether any amount of money would make a difference to this once proud but now very much decaying town.
There is no doubt that Lowestoft has a proud history – once the centre of the herring fishing industry – and the tumbled lanes called ‘The Scores’ that still lead to what was once the thriving fishing community known as ‘The Grits’ are evidence of that.
But follow The Scores down to Whapland Rd today and you come to a rather unsightly industrial area opposite the Birds Eye factory, mainly consisting of tyre/MOT garages and offset printers.
Are these the innovative businesses that this £43 mill is meant to protect? With the best will in the world sometimes a town has had its day – and no amount of money is going to revive it. Yes its residents need protecting – and the dock area has a niche industry in servicing the off shore wind farms – but has lack of sea defence really stopped major business from investing here? Or stopped the drain away of employment and young people?
It was thought by many that once the old district authorities of Waveney and Suffolk Coastal merged into the mega body of East Suffolk that all the major funding efforts might go one way – as Lowestoft is the most deprived town in our area. And these latest awards seem to prove the point. In the past Felixstowe always seemed to lose out to Woodbridge or Aldeburgh when the funding was being shared around. Now it seems we will forever loose out to Lowestoft.
In September 2019, Lowestoft was chosen as one of 101 towns in the UK to benefit from the Government’s £3.6 billion Towns Fund. Through this, the Council has been able to bid for up to £25million to help drive economic regeneration.
As part of the draft investment plan for Lowestoft, several key projects were assessed to determine which were most suitable to receive this funding. From these projects, the first phase of the regeneration of the East Point Pavilion was deemed to be the most appropriate and achievable within the timeframe. The council has therefore proposed that the majority of the grant funding, £720,000, is allocated to this work.
As part of the ongoing regeneration of the South Beach, plans for the future of the Pavilion have been in development for some time, with cabinet approval already given for works to begin in August. The first phase is expected to be completed by March 2021.
The funding will be used to redesign the interior of the pavilion, providing flexible space for community and cultural activity, space for small entrepreneurial ‘pop-up’ businesses to operate from and a year-round café venue. The Council will be working with an arts and events organiser to run the new facility.
Cllr Craig Rivett, East Suffolk’s Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Economic Development said: “The East Point Pavilion is a prominent building positioned at the entrance to Lowestoft’s South Beach and is therefore one of the first things visitors see. Not only will redesigning this building give it a new lease of life and improve the visitor experience, it will provide opportunities in which local businesses can grow and offer a new cultural space.
So spending shed loads of money on this one building is going to bring the tourists flocking back?? I really don’t think so.
“Like many others across the country, Lowestoft town centre is experiencing decline however we have ambitious plans to address and reverse this. It is our belief that bringing the Pavilion back into use for the benefit of local residents and visitors will act as a catalyst for further regeneration along the seafront and is the first step towards reinvigorating the town centre.”
In case ESC haven’t noticed High Streets are in decline anyway – and the pandemic hasn’t helped. But in Lowestoft, with Palmers Department store, and Tesco Metro folding last year adding to 75 business premises already empty including the recent loss of Beales – it is hard to know where re generation could possibly start.
Cllr Steve Gallant, Leader of East Suffolk Council said that the news could not have been better: “Lowestoft is worth investing in. Its current location on the coast and the flood risks that this presents, have been preventing it becoming one of the UK’s greatest economic successes. The award of this funding will allow us to protect people and their homes and, significantly reduce the risk of flooding to over 825 businesses, unlocking further growth, creating jobs and apprenticeships and securing the future of Lowestoft for generations to come.
“Lowestoft, the UK’s most easterly town, is at the centre of the world’s largest market for offshore wind energy. Lowestoft Port supports billions of pounds worth of offshore projects plus international trade. However, Lowestoft has had no formal flood defences and was severely impacted by the 2013 storm surge. The tidal barrier and sea walls will prevent the devastating floods we experienced in December 2013 happening again.
Let it be noted – Felixstowe has no formal flood defences either – was devastated in 1953 -and is home to a thriving High Street and one of the Uk’s busiest ports.
Unlike Lowestoft it has a regular tourist influx – but there are a number of things that need addressing. Between The Spa and the Pier the beach remains at too lower level in many places after a constant washing away of sand to put back the beach huts in their summer location, which in turn clogs up the promenade. And the main drive for improving the run down south seafront area seems to be a rather pretentious restaurant/cafe at Martello Park.
“The Prime Minister promised to build back better, build back faster and build back greener. Lowestoft will be at the heart of this with its contribution to the country’s green energy through the increasing development of the wind energy sector operating out of its Port. As a result of today’s very welcome news we will be able, alongside our partners Suffolk County Council, the Environment Agency and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to build Lowestoft’s future without the fear of flooding from the sea, providing confidence to developers and investors. We see the award of this funding from Government as heralding a new economic dawn for our Town and our people and businesses. They deserve this after the devastating floods of 2013 and the recent COVID 19 pandemic.”
I wish Lowestoft every success – but I think it’s time ESC looked to other areas of their domain now – maybe Lowestoft has got enough funding already.