New Southwold employment hub to 'future proof' town and attract year-round business

Southwold Station road

A view of what the site looks like now - Credit: Google Maps

A revised planning application for an employment hub in Southwold, which hopes to help make the town less reliant on tourism by providing more office space, has been submitted.

The original plan put forward in 2018 has planning permission, but the town council say the new plan has been amended to take into account the "changing world around us" and new ways of working since the pandemic.

The reduced plan for the Station Yard Development will have one shop, one flat and 93 co-working spaces.

Southwold business enterprise

The store at the site in Southwold has already closed - Credit: Archant

Will Windell, Mayor of Southwold, said: "The redevelopment of Station Yard is just one of a number of projects we have underway and is part of a wider plan to rejuvenate Southwold.

"All these projects are designed to future proof our town, creating a continuing legacy to attract year-round business, visitors and residents to the town.

"The Southwold Enterprise Hub will provide affordable and flexible employment space, fresh job prospects and support for young people who are just starting a career."

The project, spearheaded by Southwold Town Council, has been made possible by a grant from The Coastal Communities Fund, supported by partners East Suffolk Council

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Southwold is a town dominated by the seasons and tourism, has a dwindling permanent resident population and during the quieter months there’s a significant impact on visitor footfall.

The town council's research showed that 78% of jobs in the town are tourist-based, so employment can be seasonal.

The research also revealed that for non-tourism, non-retail businesses there is a lack of suitable premises, particularly away from the High Street.

An East Suffolk Council spokesperson said: “Southwold Town Council approached East Suffolk Council wanting to increase employment opportunities in the town as part of their ambition to support and strengthen the local community.

“East Suffolk Council has since assisted the town council with a successful bid from the Coastal Communities Fund to help finance their plan to redevelop one of their properties into an employment hub. 

“As the bid was successful, East Suffolk Council is now continuing to support the town council to deliver its project.”

However, there are differing views on the matter. In 2018 the initial plan proved controversial with several businesses at the site.

Cllr David Beavan Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cllr David Beavan Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Southwold town councillor David Beavan believes there are still several flaws with the revised plan.

He said: "There is no acknowledgement of the market demand for three person offices or workshops. Instead we have more co-working spaces to add to 30 already being provided at the old hospital site who will also park down here. Are 10 car parking spaces enough for 123 co-workers?

"The original plan to provide a first floor all round has been dropped due to a lack of funds, and more desks have now been crammed into a smaller space in a vain effort to meet the minimal requirements of a possible operator who has not yet been confirmed.

"Whilst the economic viability of this plan may not be a material consideration and the buck will pass to Southwold Town Council, East Suffolk's business department are heavily involved in this project. Not only will local ratepayers be landed with a heavy bill, but also an unwanted monument to the failure of local government generally."

One resident, Michael Ball, commented on the application. He said that "10 parking spaces would seem insufficient to accommodate the 75 desks shown, maintenance staff, shop workers and occupiers of the single flat.

"The shop has no stock room or break room for members of staff. 

"From measurements from the floor plans and layout of furniture according to those plans I estimate that persons working between the banks of desks would have 20cm of space to exit and enter. Any movement of people would disturb adjacent workers."

To view the new planning application for the site search 'DC/21/5052/VOC' on the East Suffolk Council's planning portal.

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