Bid to link up 'old and new' town centre

A BOLD vision to link an historic Suffolk town centre with a �100million new shopping development has been put forward following the demise of Woolworths.

James Mortlock

A BOLD vision to link an historic Suffolk town centre with a �100million new shopping development has been put forward following the demise of Woolworths.

County councillor Paul Hopfensperger said Bury St Edmunds planning chiefs should “grab the bull by the horns” and put forward proposals to demolish the Woolworths building on Cornhill - along with Topman and Topshop and the Stead and Simpson shoe store - to create a major new square for the town between the existing centre and the almost-complete Arc scheme.

And Mr Hopfensperger, a Suffolk county councillor for Bury, said the new square could be used to extend one of the town's most constant shopping features - its famous twice-weekly market, which is widely considered to be one of the best in East Anglia.

The independent councillor said: “Consumer habits change constantly and it is up to community leaders to have the foresight to be able to look into the future and project what will happen in the high street over the next 20 or so years.

“Bury is a market town, and it is up to the leaders to help preserve this one tradition which brings people into town every Wednesday and Saturday. I believe this could be helped by changing the designs for the link between the Arc and the existing town centre, by the demolition of the 1960s Woolworths building, right up to the Post Office.

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“This would create a new square between Cornhill and St Andrews Street South, which would enable the market to extend up to the Arc on market days, bridging the gap between the old and the new more effectively.

“It's time to grab the bull by the horns, and be what we were elected to be, leaders. Failure to do so will be disastrous for the entire town centre in the not too distant future.”

Nigel Aitkens, St Edmundsbury Borough Council's portfolio holder for economy and asset management, said Mr Hopfensperger's idea was an “interesting proposition” similar to the original plan for the former cattle market site - now occupied by the Arc - put forward about 20 years ago.

However, he said the cost to the council of buying up the sites would run into millions of pounds and the current plans for widening the Market Thoroughfare were sufficient to link the old and new sections of town. And he stressed: “They (the Arc and old town) are back to back and if you look at the new centre it's not going to take too long a time to get round it.

“I think people may spend an hour there and an hour in the old town. And, of course, the best attraction Bury has to offer is the Abbey Gardens, which has strong footfall in both winter and summer - that won't change and will continue to take people down Abbeygate Street, to its well known independent stores and through the town's strong caf� society.”