Plans to convert Walnuttree Hospital to create 42 flats approved but restrictions mean scheme may not be financially viable

Walnutree Hospital in Sudbury.

Walnutree Hospital in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

A community’s wish to retain a historic former hospital building has been granted – but it has come at a cost.

Councillors have backed plans to convert the Victorian core of Sudbury’s Walnuttree Hospital into 42 flats, but with no guarantee that the scheme will be viable.

Seven new riverside townhouses will also be added to the site, but there will be no much-needed affordable housing in the development and no community facilities.

This is because it will cost more to convert the current building than to knock it down and replace it with new homes.

Members of Babergh’s planning committee voted 13-1 in favour of the development with some describing the building as “historic and romantic” and hailing its preservation as a triumph.

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But Sudbury councillor Adrian Osborne said he was deeply disappointed that “nostalgia” had got in the way of sense, resulting in the lack of affordable housing and community facilities.

It was only following extensive consultation that the site’s owner, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, decided to honour the wishes of local people, including members of the Sudbury Society who wanted to keep the hospital – a former Victorian workhouse.

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Original plans put forward two years ago included a community hall in part of the converted building but this idea was dropped.

According to planning committee chairman, Peter Beer, Sudbury as a town would have benefited more if Walnuttree had been bulldozed and replaced with new builds.

He said: “I am not sure why anyone would want to save a workhouse. In my opinion it should have been knocked down and then we would have got the affordable housing we need out of it.”

Bryn Hurren, who voted against the proposal, said: “I find it difficult to swallow that it’s so much more expensive to convert existing buildings. I find it impossible to support this scheme without any affordable housing provision.”

The decision had been delayed for a month because Babergh’s planning chief, Christine Thurlow, was not convinced the project would be viable. Yesterday, she told the planning committee the position on viability was still unclear but safeguards had been built into the revised proposal.

A detailed visual structural survey will now be carried out and a ‘claw back’ mechanism put in place to ensure the council will get half of any increase in the projected sale price. Mrs Thurlow has also been authorised to secure a planning obligation from the developers.

In the end, most councillors were in favour of the recommendation. Sudbury councillor Jack Owen said the building would be “brought back to life” by the conversion and the properties – in a prestigious part of Sudbury – would be “very sought after”.

Nick Ridley said it was an “opportunity to make something pretty good out of what is a sow’s ear at the moment” while Kathryn Grandon said the conversion would make a fantastic site that would be “a great asset” for Sudbury.

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