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Sudbury: Battle to save park is lost

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 January 2013

People's Park in Sudbury.

People's Park in Sudbury.

Archant

A TEN-YEAR battle to preserve a historic piece of NHS land as a public park has been lost.

At a meeting yesterday, Babergh District Council planning committee granted outline permission for 100 houses to be built on Harp Close Meadow in Sudbury – or People’s Park as it is known locally.

The 4.5ha site off Waldingfield Road was earmarked for a new hospital but but after plans for a health centre in Church Field Road were agreed, the land became surplus to requirements.

The People’s Park Preservation Association (PPPA) has been fighting for more than a decade to keep the site – which has a history as a park dating back to 1874 – as public open space. But consent granted yesterday will see the meadow transformed with at least 100 residential units and just 1.8ha - or 40% of the site – remaining as public open space, including two separate play areas.

Following yesterday’s decision, West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust confirmed it would now offer the site’s former owners Sudbury Common Land Trust – which sold the land to the NHS in 1987 – the opportunity to purchase it back for the town at the “current market value”.

But last night, PPPA chairman Tony Platt said because outline planning permission had been granted, the value of the land would “rocket” putting it “out of the town’s reach”. He added: “We were very disappointed with the outcome of the meeting because although we would have preferred no development at all on Peoples Park, we had accepted that it is in the local housing plan and were trying to put forward a positive amendment which would have secured a single open meadow space (alongside the houses) for people and wildlife to enjoy.

“But now unless we and the Common Lands Trust can find a way to meet the purchase price, which is highly unlikely, all we can do is to continue to keep a watching brief on this and work with any potential developers to make sure as much as possible of the site remains as public open space.”

During the meeting, committee members raised concerns about limited vehicular access to the proposed development and possible flood risk. Sudbury councillor Adrian Osborne also said open space was “at a premium” in the town’s east ward, adding: “Although I appreciate that housing is needed, it is also critical for residents’ wellbeing that they have access to open space. Please members do not allow Sudbury to become concreted over.”

But his colleague Michael Bamford said the land currently had no official public access or right of way running through it, adding: “So it seems that it is currently a piece of bland open space without any features to make it useable or attractive to people.”

Planning committee chairman Peter Beer said while he felt a second road into the development would have been preferable, he was happy with the open space requirement.

Last night, a West Suffolk Hospital spokesman said the trust was pleased that the council had granted outline planning permission on the site.

“In partnership with the Sudbury Local Liaison Forum, we have worked very hard to develop a high quality scheme which complies with all planning regulations and offers a good balance between housing and open space, and are pleased that this was recognised by the committee,” he said.

“We have a duty to the Department of Health to maximise the value of the land and, if the Common Land Trust do not purchase the site, it remains our intention to enter into a competitive tendering process which will be open to all bidders.”

During the early 1900s People’s Park was used by the Freemen of Sudbury as grazing land for their cattle. After WWII the occasional event took place there, including the South Suffolk Show in the 1950s.

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