Rethink for town hall

HOPES of a £300,000 revamp for Felixstowe's main civic building are the subject of a rethink today, after part of the proposals collapsed.Suffolk Coastal council had been hoping that its housing benefits department would be able to share the Town Hall with the town council.

By Richard Cornwell

HOPES of a £300,000 revamp for Felixstowe's main civic building are the subject of a rethink today, after part of the proposals collapsed.

Suffolk Coastal council had been hoping that its housing benefits department would be able to share the Town Hall with the town council.

But the idea has failed because agreement could not be reached with the two bodies to share the building and provide them both with all the accommodation that they needed.

Council chiefs have now had to draw up fresh proposals for the Town Hall complex and buildings alongside, though it says the changes now on the drawing board will cost less.

It cannot abandon the scheme because it needs to make use of empty space and the Tourist Information Centre must move from the leisure centre because working conditions for staff are currently in breach of health and safety law.

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In a report to the cabinet, officers say the way forward would be to move the TIC back to its old premises as planned, and move the housing benefit office from that building to the one next door, which was to be commercially let.

There had been interest from commercial operators in taking over the vacant property in Undercliff Road West for a tourist-related activity, such as a café.

The council still has one more empty building in the row which it could let, and now proposes to refurbish its upstairs for renting out as offices – so overall, it should still be able to raise around £12,000 a year in rent as had been hoped.

The big problem is still what to do with the Town Hall, which has large amounts of empty space due to the closure of the magistrates' courts and probation offices. The building's seafront location is not attractive and the space available would probably not suit modern offices.

The cabinet, which meets on February 4, is recommended to agree the revised plan – and cut the budget for the work from £285,000 to £225,000.

Moving the housing benefit next door instead of into the Town Hall will cost less because there will be less work needed to provide access for people with disabilities, though a little work will still be needed at the Town Hall.

It is also recommended that a formal lease be offered to the town council to regulate what for the past 29 years has been an informal arrangement.

WEBLINK: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

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