The website has received this message from the Southwold and Reydon Society, it is an open letter to the Mayor of Southwold.
Open Letter Of Concern about the Station Yard Project
Our Executive Committee this week reviewed what we know about the scheme to redevelop Station Yard and also a good deal of correspondence on this subject that we have received from members.
In the light of the considerable disquiet among our members and other residents, we urge the Council to pause the project for a short period so that a number of key issues can be addressed and the community made fully aware of the rationale, costs and risks of proceeding with either the current scheme or any other option that is chosen. As the Council has, rightly, pointed out in its submission on a recent planning application, time spent at the front of a project to get it right is always worthwhile.
For us there a four key questions, most with supplementaries. These are:
- Does Station Yard need to be re-developed? Our answer to this is unequivocally yes, which is why we supported the original planning application and the bid for Coastal Community funding. However, our support was for a mixed scheme of workspaces, retail and housing - not for the purely business oriented scheme now proposed. We also took into account the Council’s reassurances about its support for the current tenants and the option of replacing unfilled workspaces with more affordable housing to ensure occupancy, income and meeting of local need. For us, these mitigations of the negative consequences for the current tenants and of one key financial risk were – and continue to be – critical issues.
- Is the scheme now proposed the solution? We have grave doubts. Filling workspaces to accommodate 70+ staff at a rental of £27 per sq ft seems a very ambitious, and thus inherently risky, proposal. Whilst we support the aim of diversifying the local economy by attracting higher level employment, we are not convinced by the Business Plan’s assertion that a scheme of this size, alongside that of Southgen, can be realised. We feel, therefore, that other options must be explored and discussed with the community. In order to do so, the following is required:
- The conditions of the CCF grant must be made public so we know what flexibility may exist to vary the scheme and if this is precluded currently what options there are for asking for a variation of the conditions.
- The business case submitted as part of the application to the CCF must also be published. Since both a business case and planning permission were requirements of the application process and only the original mixed scheme has planning permission, the community needs to see the business case which supported that original scheme. We assume that at this stage very little of the financial information can be regarded as commercially sensitive – there are no confidential leases with new tenants and the costs of advice , design and construction will be in the public domain.
- If the current plan is not the right one, what is? This is the key issue. We continue to believe that a mixed scheme, similar to that which has planning permission, is a more sound plan, with reduced risk and more of what the community wishes to see provided. If possible, we believe a variation of this option to include a small garage facility (including the infrastructure to maintain electric vehicles) would be desirable. We wholly support the aim of creating new, more diverse, employment but this should not be at the expense of safeguarding existing jobs. Nor should Southwold be a town of only housing, tourism and offices. Rather it should provide a range of facilities to ensure a vibrant lively community. At the very least, we think that a short consultation on other options is essential so that any final decision is taken after the community has had the chance to hear and comment on the advantages and risks of alternatives and the views of the community are reflected in the Council’s final decision.
- What are the risks and costs? The Council will only have this one chance to invest £3m in a major development at Station Yard so it is essential to get it right. The current scheme seems to be a high risk strategy in the following ways:
- Is there an adequate budget for the costs of decontamination of the site? This issue will affect any scheme but we are not convinced that adequate provision has been made in the current scheme. Whatever is decided, this risk must be fully identified and costed.
- What will be done if the workspaces are not tenanted? If the mitigation is conversion of some workspaces to residential use, what funding has been set aside for this? If none, how would such conversions be funded?
- What is proposed to safeguard, as far as possible, the existing jobs? Relocation of the garage has been proposed previously. How will this be funded? Similarly, the convenience store will not be operational for three years (whereas previously the scheme was to be phased to provide temporary relocation). What is proposed to safeguard this business?
I expect our request for a pause for more consultation may not be welcome to many on the Council. I would like, therefore, to close by stressing that in making this request and asking our questions, the Society wants to be able fully to support the Council in the best solution for Station Yard and the community.
With very best wishes,
Ridley Burnett, Chairman