Sudbury: Reaction to hospital site plans
07:00 03 January 2013
A HERITAGE group wants the NHS to donate part of an old hospital site earmarked for housing development so it can be used as a civic hall and museum.
Long-awaited plans to convert Sudbury’s Walnuttree and St Leonards hospitals into flats were revealed by West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust at a public exhibition in the town.
The fate of the two sites has been the focus of speculation since plans for a new health centre on Church Field Road were approved in November 2011.
Under the proposed scheme, the Victorian core of the Walnuttree – which opened in 1837 as the Sudbury Union Workhouse – would be retained and converted into 36 flats. The rest of the building would be demolished and replaced with seven three-storey houses.
Councillors and residents have welcomed the plans, but the Sudbury Society also wants any developer that buys the site to gift Walnuttree’s former outpatients’ building to the town, for use as a meeting hall for nearby St Gregory’s Church and a heritage centre for Sudbury’s archives.
Their chairman Peter Thorogood said: “We would like to see the present outpatients department handed over to the council or a trust for local civic use. The building is not included in the housing plan and should therefore have no impact on that.”
Mr Thorogood wants the building to be donated instead of “106” money that is usually given by a developer via the planning authority to offset any possible harm caused by a new development. The Sudbury Society, which is consulting with the health trust, architects and St Gregory’s Church on the idea, would like the ground floor of the building to become a “ready made” public hall for up to 100 people. Then on the first floor, a small display would be set up charting the history of the site.
Mr Thorogood added: “As the town’s archive is currently kept in different locations all over town, the rest of the first floor could be used as Sudbury archive centre to enable public access to, and safe preservation of the information.”
He said as the NHS was “unlikely to be able to compromise” on plans for its controversial People’s Park site - currently earmarked for more than 100 new homes - he was “optimistic” that the Walnuttree community scheme would get through.
But last night, Sudbury town councillors were cautious about the idea and said they had not yet been consulted about it. Planning committee chairman Nigel Bennett said: “While the idea of a community building of some sort at the site has been suggested, we have had no formal discussions about it and our major concern would be who is going to run the facility. Being given the building is one thing, but all things like this have to be funded on an ongoing basis.”
Councillor Tony Platt agreed adding: “When the Town Council decided to start a collection of ephemera, the Sudbury Museum Trust was clear that it didn’t have the resources to run it, so the primary concern would be to establish who would be responsible for any new heritage centre.”
His colleague Oliver Forder said the planning committee would welcome the opportunity to be consulted about the scheme “as soon as possible”.
Babergh District Council is expected to discuss plans for People’s Park – or Harp Close Meadow as it is formally known – at the end of the month. The NHS trust has pledged to plough money from the sale of the land and the hospital buildings back into health services in the Sudbury area.