What are the plans for the future of Sudbury town centre?
PUBLISHED: 14:00 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:24 11 February 2020
The first designs of a controversial proposed hotel and restaurant in Sudbury are revealed in a major two day event showcasing plans aimed at transforming the town.
Babergh District Council has released details of its controversial proposals for the development on the former swimming pool site in the town's Belle Vue Park.
The plans will form part of a two day exhibition 'What Next for Sudbury?' organised by the council, starting today (Wednesday January 29) at St Peter's church in Market Hill.
The exhibition includes findings of a study commissioned by Suffolk County Council, supported by Babergh, that recommends relocating Hamilton Road bus station and redesigning Market Hill as ways of boosting the town's economy.
It will also showcase proposals for Belle Vue House, plans for Belle Vue Park and an overview of improvement work already underway in the town.
Babergh council leader John Ward said: "We are investing heavily and working with a number of partners to realise a vision for Sudbury and ensure a bright and healthy future for the town - and we are now in a position to explain things in a joined-up way for residents.
"We have listened to feedback through previous consultations and want to be open and clear about our thoughts for the future - giving the local community every possible chance to understand our rationale and continue to give us their views."
Information and plans shared at the event, which run from 2pm to 7pm, will also be made available on Babergh District Council's website where those unable to attend can also leave their feedback.
The proposed hotel and restaurant
The council's plan to build on the site of the former swimming pool in Belle Vue Park has sparked passionate opposition in many Sudbury residents.
Babergh say the plan will help regenerate the redundant site and attract visitors to the town, boosting the local economy and creating new jobs.
But critics say the plan will ruin a much-loved public space in the town and the council's method of paying for the scheme - around £7 million - will cost the tax-payer.
The proposed modern design features heritage-style brick, with timber-style cladding and contrasting brick detailing.
The building flanks the routes to the park, with pedestrian access through the development from Newton Road and Cornard Road.
The design seeks to retain a wall and existing trees, access to Belle Vue House, and the existing children's play area.
The plans are being shared now ahead of a planning application expected to be submitted in spring 2020.
There will then be a formal consultation period before the planning committee reaches its decision later this year.
Funding for the project is in the region of £7 million and was approved by the council in September 2018.
The council says the debt will be repaid by income generated by the lease of the hotel and restaurant to a commercial operator, who will be legally committed to a long-term lease before any works takes place, with annual borrowing costs less than the rent received, thus generating additional funds to plough back into services.
Council leader John Ward said: "We have been through an iterative process to come up with the best possible design - creating a suitable 'gateway' landmark for Sudbury, whilst also preserving Belle Vue Park for the benefit of its residents and visitors to the town.
"We considered a number of options, including two separate buildings, however this would take up more land - encroaching into Belle Vue Park.
"We do know some in the local community have concerns and, following discussions with the prospective operator, we now propose a taller, single building design in order to deliver all the promised benefit for Sudbury, while minimising loss of parkland."
Comments can be made via the council website.
Revitalising Sudbury town centre
The study into ways to revitalise Sudbury recommends the relocation of Hamilton Road bus station to an on-street facility, and the redesign of Market Hill to attract more visitors into the town centre.
It also includes the proposed creation of a Green Walk, which would see enhanced access to existing green open spaces at the edge of Sudbury town centre such as The Croft and Belle Vue Park, and the creation of a Cultural Mile - connecting the St Peter's cultural venue, the new Gainsborough's House heritage attraction, the shops on North Street, and the Quay Theatre.
Carried out by business consultants WSP, the study was commissioned by Suffolk County Council and jointly funded by Babergh Council.
It considered redesign options to make Market Hill a public space for staging events and festivals and to encourage more residents and visitors into the town centre.
Following consultation with local bus operators around the Hamilton Road Station, the study has identified several alternative bus route options.
It says new routes and updates to town road lay outs could reduce up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) on current routes per day. with on-street bus stops giving passengers better direct access to key locations around the town centre.
The Sudbury Vision Group looked at remodelling and highway improvements at five main town centre junctions - King Street, Girling Street, North Street, East Street and Great Eastern Road - that would be needed to support on-street bus stop placement and the preferred revised routes.
Funding to deliver this will form a Suffolk County Council submission to the Government's pinch point fund in 2020/21.
Andrew Reid, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for highways, transport and rural affairs, said: "I welcome the results of this study.
"These findings not only provide us with the opportunity to work collaboratively with our colleagues on ways to transform Market Hill, the new proposed events area for the town, but also outlines ways to support the county's ambition for improved sustainable travel by providing a better connected public transport service in Sudbury."
Michael Holt, Babergh's cabinet member for economic growth and chair of the Sudbury Steering Group, said: "This study has been useful in identifying feasible steps that can be put in place to ensure Sudbury remains a vibrant market town.
"By working with Suffolk County Council and moving the bus station we can progress the long-awaited regeneration of Hamilton Road, as well as enjoying the benefits of better connected bus services - aiming to increase the amount of time that people spend in the town and creating a thriving and sustainable town centre, with Market Hill at its heart."
The future of Belle Vue House
Hand-in-hand with the proposed hotel and restaurant is the question over the future of nearby Belle Vue House.
Owned by Babergh District Council, the Victorian house is a Sudbury landmark but has been empty for some years having previously served as offices, a magistrates court and wartime hospital.
Converting it back into residential use, using it for private sheltered housing, or a café and heritage centre are amongst the suggestions for its future.
Last September the council invited formal expressions of interest from any individuals or groups with financially viable proposals.
Property agents Strutt & Parker were also instructed to see whether there was commercial interest in the property.
Residents are now being asked for their views on the following suggestions:
⦁ Developers McCabe & Abel - buy the mansion and convert it into two family homes. Purchase and restoration costs would be privately funded with no cost to the taxpayer and restoration completed within 18 months. The town would also benefit from the developers Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) contribution.
⦁ Developers Western Way LLP - buy and convert the mansion into seven or eight apartments and create full time jobs for five people. Again, purchase and restoration costs would be privately funded with no cost to the taxpayer and restoration completed within 18 months and, again, the town would benefit from CIL contribution.
⦁ Belle Vue Community Group - wants to use the building as a mix of sheltered accommodation of 10 flats, a café-restaurant and a legacy centre, either a Silk Heritage and Fashion Centre, or a Settlers' Museum, focusing on the lives of the Winthrop family and others from the area who left for America in the 17th century. The group is seeking funding for the capital works, estimated in the region of £1.275m, from either Babergh District Council or alternative commercial funding. The group says it would pay back the debt over 30 years using rental income from the sheltered flats and café. This would need further scrutiny following the consultation.
A second community bid suggested converting the building into a community health and wellbeing centre - working with local providers to offer classes, therapies and support to promote local residents' physical, emotional and mental health.
However, the group behind the bid felt they did not have plans sufficiently firmed up to be able take part in the consultation at this point in time.
The council is inviting views via its website and a final decision will be made by its cabinet in June 2020.
Preserving Belle Vue Park
Sudbury residents are also being asked for their views on how to improve Belle Vue Park.
Babergh District Council has invested £150,000 in the park's multi-use games area, completed in November 2018, and in a new skate/BMX park which opened in June 2019.
The old skatepark has been retained as a multi-purpose hard surface space that can be used for major town and community events such as the carnival, and the Party in the Park.
It is also providing space for teaching cycling proficiency skills to youngsters.
Now, as part of the wider redevelopment of Belle Vue, the council says it wants to provide new equipment and amenities including updated toilet facilities, toddler and junior play equipment, new fitness equipment, a parkour unit and the refurbishment and relocation of seating.
Derek Davis, the council's cabinet member for communities, said: "We will continue to work with our community and listen to all residents, young and old, so Belle Vue can be enjoyed by all for generations to come."
Residents can find out more and give their views online at the council website.
Work already underway
Alongside the new developments, the 'What Next for Sudbury' event is showcasing to residents work already underway across the town under Sudbury Vision.
This is a group consisting of the town, district and county councils, Central Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Gainsborough's House Museum and St Peter's, and design and property consultants Concertus.
⦁ £2.4m investment in the Kingfisher Leisure Centre
⦁ The £9.5m transformation of Gainsborough's House into a national centre for art
⦁ St Peter's regeneration into a vibrant cultural hub.
Sudbury Vision is a partnership working to sell Sudbury as a major force in the Suffolk economy - encouraging business growth, new investment, developing a night-time economy, improving transport, facilities and opportunities and developing a connected town centre and community.