Council tenants in limbo with future of historic building in doubt

James Sullivan and Ray Perry, residents of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

James Sullivan and Ray Perry, residents of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Council tenants say they are not sure where they will be living this Christmas after the future of a block of council housing flats was thrown into doubt.

St Mary's Flats, in Ballygate, Beccles, house a dozen residents in 10 homes at the former Beccles school, which dates back to the 18th century.

But now owners East Suffolk Council are faced with the challenge of making the building more energy efficient, casting doubt over its future as council housing. 

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

A spokesperson for the council apologised for the uncertainty caused but said no decision had yet been made.

Ray Perry, who has lived in the flats for five years, said some residents were now unsure whether to decorate for Christmas.

The 68-year-old said: "Last July a surveyor from the council came round and started checking the building.

Ray Perry, a resident of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

Ray Perry, a resident of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. - Credit: Danielle Booden

"He wouldn't tell us why, but a short while later three estate agents turned up with their laser pointers and started measuring.

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"We asked why and they said the building was being sold.

"We held an emergency meeting with the owners who said they had been told to make the building greener, which they said couldn't be done because it is a listed building, but that's nonsense.

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

"I don't think it's right, especially with the housing crisis going on.

"We are all in limbo. With Christmas coming up, do we pack or decorate?

"Some people want to redecorate or garden, but aren't because we don't know how long we'll be here so the building is going to become a dilapidated wreck."

James Sullivan and Ray Perry, residents of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

James Sullivan and Ray Perry, residents of St Mary's Flats in Beccles. - Credit: Danielle Booden

The building has been Grade II listed by Historic England since 1971.

A spokesperson for East Suffolk Council said: “We entirely understand why residents are concerned, and have every sympathy, however we are seeking a positive solution which is in their very best interests.

“Due to the construction of the flats, these properties are not energy efficient, resulting in unnecessarily high energy bills for residents.

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. Picture: Danielle Booden

St Mary's Flats in Beccles. - Credit: Danielle Booden

"They are also difficult to retrofit with any energy-saving materials.

“So, currently we are exploring options and, while no decision has yet been made, we are in the process of updating all the residents and apologise for any concerns that this uncertainty may be causing.

"We will ensure residents are kept informed and that they are consulted before any decisions are finalised.”

Caroline Topping

Caroline Topping, who represents the Beccles and Worlingham ward on East Suffolk Council - Credit: EAST SUFFOLK

Cabinet meeting

Caroline Topping, who represents the Beccles and Worlingham ward on East Suffolk Council, confirmed the residents' homes would not be sold overnight, with the matter set to be discussed at the council's cabinet meeting in January.

"We have to retrofit our council stock, but some buildings are listed and really difficult to do.

"The council must make a decision whether to spend a lot of money on improving them, or say it is just not possible for some buildings and let them go.

"As with anything, we have to put a business case together to go to cabinet, with the help of professionals, and they decide the best way forward.

"Unfortunately, residents are now worried and don't want to spend money on their homes, and I totally sympathise and will do all I can to represent them."

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