Councillors to decide future of John Peel Centre in key meeting

The former NatWest building in Market Place, Stowmarket

The former NatWest building in Market Place, Stowmarket which could house the John Peel Centre for the next 40 years. - Credit: Mid Suffolk District Council

The future of the famous John Peel Centre is to be decided by councillors as it looks to find a new home in the former NatWest building in Stowmarket. 

Mid Suffolk District Council’s Cabinet is due to decide whether to grant the cultural centre a long-term lease at the former NatWest building, providing the venue with a ‘front door’ on to the Market Place to bring arts, leisure and entertainment to the town centre.

If the lease is permitted it would provide the centre with a new home for 40 years at a "peppercorn rent". 

The John Peel Centre Picture: MARK LANGFORD

The John Peel Centre could move into the former NatWest building in Stowmarket town centre. - Credit: Archant

The council say the move would help fulfil their vision of reviving the property, which was left empty after the bank closed in 2017. 

Mid Suffolk District Council purchased the property and planning permission was secured to enable the building’s use for food and drink, assembly and leisure.

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Peter Gould, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for assets and investment, said: “This is really great news for Stowmarket and will provide a major step forward as we look to make the town a gateway into Suffolk and the ‘go to’ place for arts, entertainment and culture.”

The centre’s expansion is among a number of "exciting" developments set to help the town’s post-Covid recovery.

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The new look Regal Theatre is benefiting from £3.6m of investment for a comprehensive expansion and refurbishment programme which will see it boast three modern cinema screens, improved audio-visual experience, as well as a new front of house, café and bar area.

Works are also being undertaken to restore and preserve many of the original features of the existing building built in 1936.

Two additional auditoria and a new café have been added in recent months.

Gerard Brewster, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for economy, said: “This is an example of how we are investing in the future regeneration of our towns. 

"By giving people a new and exciting place to visit we can increase visitor numbers to the town, which will provide an economic boost as well.” 

Across the wider town centre, funding has also been secured from the Department of Transport’s Active Travel fund for the installation of bicycle storage in the town centre which are now in place.

John Matthissen, opposition Green group spokesman, said: "Subject to confirmation, our group welcomes the move towards finally  linking the John Peel Centre to the Market Place with was first promised three years ago. 

"Our group urges the cabinet to give the go ahead to the arts centre which has already put the town on East Anglia's cultural map over the past decade."

Councillors who attended the 2017 ‘Vision’ public engagement in the old NatWest building are, however, critical that other priorities expressed by the public at the time remain unfulfilled.

Mr Matthissen added: “The gateway to the town for rail travellers passes the semi-derelict Lynton House and the old pram shop at 3 Station Road, both Grade II listed for their heritage value.

"Members of the public were emphatic that these eyesores must be tackled urgently but they continue to disfigure the town.”

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