New evidence 'could save People's Park'

PUBLIC records dating back more than 20 years could hold the key to a market town retaining a valuable area of green space, campaigners say.

Dave Gooderham

PUBLIC records dating back more than 20 years could hold the key to a market town retaining a valuable area of green space, campaigners say.

The former owners of Harps Close Meadow, in Sudbury, claim they only sold the land to what is now the West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust on the grounds it would be used for a new unit and that more than four acres would remain open space.

Now campaigners fighting plans to build housing on the land, known locally as People's Park, hope the news, which has emerged less than two weeks before a public inquiry into the saga begins, could help their fight.

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In a letter to the hospital trust, Philip Richardson, chairman of former owners Sudbury Common Lands Trust, said: “(It was) on the stated understanding from them (the hospital trust) that the land would be used for the benefit of the townsfolk as the site for the much-needed hospital.

“It was the trustees' understanding that although part of the land would be utilised for the hospital building, a significant part would be landscaped as public open space.”

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Mr Richardson claimed the trustees at the time were under “some duress” to sell the land - for £850,000 in 1987 but now valued at almost £2million - with the possible threat of a compulsory purchase hanging over the green space.

Since the sale, the possibility of building a hospital on the land has ended and residents became even more frustrated when health bosses admitted it would be sold for housing to help pay off NHS debt.

Derek Wells, chairman of the People's Park Preservation Association, said: “Although we were aware of the past, we hope this will add some weight to our fight and it is good to have the support of the Common Lands Trust.

“We feel this is very strong evidence in our favour. We are now geared up for the inquiry and we just hope the town will support us on the day.”

Responding to Mr Richardson's letter, Chris Bown, the hospital trust's chief executive, said he understood residents' concerns over the land and stressed that a new health facility would be built elsewhere in the town.

But he added: “The sale of the land is important to the future delivery of health services by West Suffolk Hospital for the 255,000 population it serves.”

The inquiry is scheduled for four days and will start on September 22 at Victoria Hall, Sudbury.

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