Taxpayers’ cash used for land buy to regenerate Leiston town centre
PUBLISHED: 05:00 06 December 2018
Proposals for a multi-million pound revamp of Leiston town centre have taken a huge step forward following a vital deal over a parcel of property.
Community leaders are drawing up a masterplan for an area bounded by Sizewell Road, High Street and Eastward Ho to create new shops, a town square, car parking, homes, and community and leisure uses.
Suffolk Coastal District Council has now stepped in to buy a strategically significant site which was integral to the masterplan area – buying the half-acre site for £225,000 before it could come to auction.
Stuart Lawson, cabinet member for resources, said: “While the ‘vision’ to revitalise Leiston town centre does face some challenges, it is still being actively promoted and pursued by Leiston Town Council and ourselves.
“If the site had been sold to an owner, who was not willing to cooperate in the delivery of this vision, it would obviously have made any further progress on this initiative impossible. So, Suffolk Coastal stepped in to buy the land and safe guard these aspirations for the future.”
The site includes numbers 16 to 22a Sizewell Road, a mix of retail units and some housing, some of which is in need of refurbishment, and the site of the town’s old telephone exchange. The rear of the site joins land owned by the district council including its High Street car park.
The council will be reviewing the options on their combined landholding over the coming months in conjunction with other local stakeholders, with a view to delivering on the Neighbourhood Plan objective for a revitalised town centre.
Mr Lawson said: “There was a real risk that, if the site had been bought by a speculative developer intent on holding out for a high density residential planning consent, the buildings fronting Sizewell Road could have been allowed to deteriorate and adversely affect the look of this section of the town.
“Suffolk Coastal taking over the ownership allows us to manage this risk. The site also abuts other property owned by the council, so this allows us to look at developing this entire central area, which could be strategically important to our ability to revitalise the town.
“Hopefully, by taking this bold action now, we can now work with the town council and local people to develop the idea of having a sustainable solution that meets the needs of the local community, with a market place, car parking, new homes, retail and potentially leisure use.”
In the short-term, Suffolk Coastal intends to invest in refurbishing the retail units at 20-22a Sizewell Road in order to bring them back into use. This will improve the streetscape in the area, while a more comprehensive, longer term redevelopment plan can be worked up.
The Neighbourhood Plan identifies the “disjointed format of the retail areas of the town and the need for a more focussed town centre with outdoor provision for seating, eating and drinking, organised social events and markets”.