County Hall faces an uncertain future

WHEN fire broke out at the former County Hall building, the official message on the fire service information line described it as a “derelict” building.

That is an unfair description – unfair to its current owners and unfair to the Grade II listed building that still provides an imposing entrance to the town centre.

However while the building may remain structurally sound, it is frayed around the edges.

Buddleia is growing out of some of the cracks and vegetation is growing out of one of the gutters overlooking St Helen’s Street.

Ground floor stained-glass windows have been covered by plywood to protect them from vandalism - but that hasn’t prevented some others being smashed.

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And while experts agree that the building remains structurally sound six years after the county council moved out, there is concern that the impression given to visitors is one of a run-down entrance to the town.

The building is now owned by Rainbow Developments which is rebuilding the whole County Hall site.

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Originally planning permission was granted to convert it into “Very Sheltered Accommodation” flats for elderly people.

However because of the rabbit warren-like nature of the building and the number of steps between different levels this proposal eventually withered and died.

Now the most likely future use of the building is as offices – but David Harris of Rainbow Developments acknowledges it could be some time before tenants are found for the building.

He said: “These are very difficult times for developers, and it is particularly difficult in Ipswich. It is difficult to get the money from banks especially in the Ipswich area.

“We are having to spend a great deal on security at the building and we have been victim of crime – we have had people stealing the lead from the roof which we have had to replace.”

Mr Harris said redevelopment of the site was continuing – new flats have been built on the site of some of the newer council buildings that were demolished.

“But I cannot say when work will start on the front of the building – that is up to the market,” he said.

John Norman from the Ipswich Society, which guard’s the town’s heritage, said members did not have any great concern about the condition of the building – but they were keen to see a new use for it as soon as possible.

He said: “It seems as if it is destined to become offices, but there is no great demand for new office space in the middle of a deep recession like this.

“And there are going to be problems even when things pick up – the building is listed so you can’t put more windows in the ground floor.

“Also by developing the land behind St Helen Court there is not much car parking, and that is something that is needed for most office developments.

“It could take some time to find a new use for the building.”

Ipswich historian Dr John Blatchly hoped that a new use could soon be found for the building.

“This is a very historic building and one that is very important for Ipswich. It was also the site of the old prison and the circus in front of the building where the County Hotel is was created so the crowds could watch public executions,” he said.

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