Suffolk Punch centre gets the go-ahead

AN URGENT appeal to raise £4million to save a world-famous Suffolk Punch stud will be launched next month after permission was granted for a new visitor centre.

By Richard Smith

AN URGENT appeal to raise £4million to save a world-famous Suffolk Punch stud will be launched next month after permission was granted for a new visitor centre.

The Suffolk Punch Trust Ltd will urge the public, grant-making bodies and the Heritage Lottery Fund to back the multi-million pound project which includes expanding the breeding programme for probably the oldest breed of working horse in the world.

The appeal will also highlight the opportunities for inmates at Hollesley open prison, near Woodbridge, to work in the stud and the greater opportunities for the public to enjoy the horses, famous for their size, strength and reliability.

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The decision taken by Suffolk Coastal District Council yesterday was crucial for the trust's aim of redeveloping the stud on Prison Service land off Woodbridge Walk, Hollesley.

If councillors had decided to defer making a decision then the trust could have missed deadlines for submitting grant applications and for informing the Prison Service that money was available to buy 180 acres of land, the existing stud buildings, the horses, their equipment and some rights of access to local environmental trails.

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But now the trust can forge ahead with a public appeal and, after the decision, Phillip Ryder-Davies, trust chairman, said: "This is intensely important to us for without planning permission the whole thing could not work.

"We will launch an appeal on November 10 at the Suffolk Showground and Princess Anne has given her backing in a big way."

The Princess Royal, a supporter of the trust, has written a letter used in the organisation's promotional material highlighting the importance of the heavy horse.

The project includes the stud, restaurant, shop, agricultural museum exhibits, visitor centre, covered exhibition areas, working areas and paddocks for the horses, rural craft shops, education and heritage centre and car parking.

Planning officers were originally concerned about the design of the proposed access to the new facilities and there had been complaints from householders in Woodbridge Walk about the impact of having 25,000 visitors a year.

But officers revised their opinion, following late representations and a last minute recommendation from the Highways Authority that the access design was acceptable, and councillors unanimously backed the plans.

Mr Ryder-Davies told them the trust hoped 25% of visitors would go to the National Trust centre at Sutton Hoo on the same day. This would reduce the extra traffic and it was expected 5,000 visitors, many of them schoolchildren, would arrive by bus.

He hoped the Martlesham Park and Ride bus station could be used on Sundays as a bus collection point for visitors taking in the stud and the surrounding villages. The centre would be closed to the public from November to February.

The trust will consider a proposal to open to the public at 10am, instead of 9am, to stop visitors' cars mixing with the morning rush hour at the Melton crossroads.

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