PLANS to convert two historic hospital sites into housing have been revealed by the NHS.

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The fate of Sudbury’s Walnuttree and St Leonards hospitals has been the focus of much speculation since plans for a new health centre on Church Field Road were given the go-ahead in November last year.

The vision for both sites was unveiled to more than 100 visitors at a public exhibition on Saturday.

Matt Kennington of KLH Architects said the intention was to retain the Victorian core of Walnuttree - which opened in 1837 as the Sudbury Union Workshouse - and convert it into 36 flats.

The remainder of the building will be demolished and replaced with one of two schemes – in either traditional or contemporary style – containing seven three-storey houses. The site will be extensively landscaped and will contain six courtyards, a private parking courtyard, parking for a further 28 cars and a communal open space.

The multiple courtyards have been designed in a contemporary style to “contrast yet respect” the 13th century foundation of the site and the Victorian hospital building, which is in a conservation area.

For St Leonards, two outline schemes have been proposed. One would see the main core of the original structure retained and converted to create up to six homes, with a further eight new builds on the site. The other suggestion is to demolish the entire building and create a 38-unit sheltered accommodation development.

Mr Kennington said: “We are excited to be involved in these sites because they have such a lot of history which we have been able to pick apart and use to help formulate the new plans. We realise that taking the history into account is very important to local people.”

More than 100 Sudbury residents attended the presentation at Walnuttree Hospital with many of those registering their views via questionnaires. Among them were members of the Sudbury Society, which has long campaigned to save the hospital from the bulldozers, and pitched an unsuccessful bid to get the site heritage listed. The society was keen to see part of the building retained as a heritage centre or museum. But the group’s planning committee vice chairman, Stephen Thorpe, said: “We are pleased that the original building [Walnuttree] is being kept and that the rest of it is being cleared away to accommodate the rest of the development.

“We are keen for the outpatients department to be partly for St Gregory’s Church and part meeting place, so in principal the plans are fine. Generally we are pleased that Waluntree is being saved and St Leonards being kept. The signs are good and we just hope that it will be true to these designs.”

Architects and planning consultants attended the exhibition to answer questions about both sites. Ruth Elwood, of Elwood Landscapes Design, based in Mendlesham Green said there had seen a steady stream of people coming in to look at the displays, with a lot of interest and several positive comments.

Former Walnuttree nurse, Phyllis Felton, who visited the exhibition said: “I am pleasantly surprised that they are keeping the main building which is a big part of our local history and it could be a good thing for the town.”

Chilton Parish Council chairman Peter Clifford, who also heads the group WATCH (Working and Acting Together for Community Health) and is heavily involved with planning for the future health centre, said: “So far the architects have created a good design and have retained the core of the building of Walnuttree.

“I think it will work and I’m sure local people will be happy with it as the developments could be a benefit to the community.”

Consultant Tim Harbord, from Lavenham, said they were hoping to get the formal planning application for the two sites submitted to Babergh District Council by mid-February. A further display is planned to take place in Sudbury Town Hall next month.

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