Does 1st East have a future?

AN urban regeneration company, set up to turn Great Yarmouth's dreams into reality, faces a funding crisis that puts a big question mark over its future.

AN urban regeneration company, set up to turn Great Yarmouth's dreams into reality, faces a funding crisis that puts a big question mark over its future.

The formation of 1st East, led by a chief executive earning a six-figure salary, was seen as the way to regenerate contaminated and flood-prone sites in both Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

But five years after its launch - and still with no cranes in sight - 1st East has become a victim of the financial climate and the coalition government's new priorities.

When the financial year ends on March 31, 1st East will lose �500,000 from its �800,000 budget in the form of grants from the Homes and Communities Agency and soon-to-be-defunct East of England Development Agency.

It is understood that discussions are taking place with its other funders - Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, Yarmouth Borough Council and Waveney District Council - over whether 1st East will still have a future, and, if so, in what form.

With the government having swept away Draconian targets for new homes in Yarmouth, senior borough council figures are even questioning whether some of 1st East's housing-focused plans are still appropriate in light of the urgent need to find space for wind energy-related businesses.

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Doubters are also asking how effective 1st East can be in its key role, facilitating the regeneration of costly sites, as funding dries up as a result of the government's budget squeeze.

Joanna Young, communications and marketing manager for 1st East, confirmed the councils were reviewing their relationship with the URC.

However, she said: “A strong desire has been expressed to continue working with the URC and they are looking at the best ways to do that at the moment.”

Acknowledging public frustration at slow progress, she stressed there were often major hurdles to clear in developing large-scale plans.

But she said they were getting to the stage of things happening on a riverside homes scheme in Cobholm and the area action plan in Lowestoft was about to go to the secretary of state.

“A lot of work we have done is coming to fruition, unfortunately at a time when there is this funding issue,” she said.

She added that 1st East had played an important marketing role in attracting such wind energy companies as Vattenfall and Scottish Power which would be developing the East Anglia Array windfarm.

Graham Plant, Yarmouth Borough Council's cabinet member for the economy, said, in his view, 1st East had represented good value for money.

He said: “It has done all the groundwork in the shape of reports and transport studies to bring about development.”

This work would be vital going forward in making the case for funding to government in difficult economic times.

Mr Plant said it was possible that 1st East's work might be taken forward in a collaboration by the county and borough councils and soon-to-be-formed Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Russell Leggett, president of the Yarmouth council of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “1st East took time to get off the ground, which was not surprising, and it is a pity that this funding withdrawal has come at a time when the most progress had been made.”