Community groups urge Babergh District Council to seek alternatives to proposed hotel development in Sudbury
The Belle Vue Community Group believes community-led alternatives to a proposed hotel development in Sudbury should be considered, after hailing the positive public response to its own bid to regenerate Belle Vue House.
Sudbury has been digesting major development proposals unveiled last week by Babergh District Council, which has set out ambitions to transform the town centre, and to build a hotel and restaurant on the edge of Belle Vue Park.
The What next for Sudbury? exhibition at St Peter’s also outlined commercial and community proposals for Belle Vue House, including a local bid to repurpose it for sheltered accommodation, a café and a heritage centre.
Belle Vue Community Group member Polly Rodger-Brown told the Free Press the team was delighted by the success of the event and the support their ideas received.
But the group also aired concerns about the planned hotel on the former swimming pool site, claiming Belle Vue Park’s status as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) meant the community should have a chance to buy the asset on the open market.
“Hundreds of people visited our stand to look at our proposals for Belle Vue House and the feedback was really positive,” she said.
“In particular, many seemed keen on our idea to create a residential sheltered housing unit.
“Again, many of those we spoke to liked the idea of opening up Belle Vue House to the public as a cafe.
“We also had a lot of interest for the legacy projects, as well as the flexible community space we would like the house to be used for.
“As a community group, we remain concerned about the council leadership’s plans to fund and lease a large budget hotel in close proximity to Sudbury’s busiest junction and how this will encroach on the park.
“At this early stage in development, we encourage Babergh to seek all alternatives for the former swimming pool site, especially any that may come from a community-led bid.”
Babergh District Council has insisted its hotel proposals, which will have a formal planning application submitted in the spring, have been designed to be sympathetic to the neighbouring park land.
John Ward, council leader, said: “We have been through an iterative process to come up with the best possible design – creating a suitable gateway landmark for Sudbury, while also preserving Belle Vue Park for the benefit of its residents and visitors to the town.
“We considered a number of options, including two separate buildings. However, this would take up more land – encroaching into Belle Vue Park.
“We do know that some in the local community have concerns and, following discussions with the prospective operator, we now propose a taller, single building design in order to deliver all the promised benefit for Sudbury, while minimising loss of park land.”
However, the Belle Vue Community Group argued that, with the development at such an early stage, the district council is obligated to consider alternative bids for the proposed site, to maximise the opportunity for business rates and council tax payers.
“The former swimming pool site was and is a public recreational space,” said Polly Rodger-Brown. “As such, it is listed, along with Belle Vue House and the rest of the park, as an Asset of Community Value, which means that its disposal is subject to a number of protocols.
“Among these is the obligation to allow community groups a set period to seek the funding necessary to bid to buy the asset on the open market.
“The ACV listing was not presented to members of Sudbury’s community at the event.”
She added: “We’d like to thank Babergh and all those involved for putting on this public engagement event and urge all those who visited and those who could not make it to go online to Babergh’s survey and pass on their thoughts on the council’s plans for the future of Sudbury.”
This sentiment was echoed by a separate community organisation, the Belle Vue Park – Rescue, Restore and Revive campaign, which believes the old swimming pool site should be retained as public recreational land.
A spokeswoman for the campaign questioned why the site would be considered appropriate for a hotel and restaurant, claiming it could affect independent businesses in the town and possibly even result in job losses.
“We should be looking to increase green spaces and recreational land, not reduce these essential amenities that are for the wellbeing of the whole community,” she said.
“The hotel is also so large and tall that it would block any picturesque views across the park where the church can currently be seen.
“As far as we are aware, no feasibility study has actually been carried out for a new hotel in Sudbury.
“There are frequently empty rooms in the hotels already in existence and the rates offered are actually often cheaper than typical Premier Inn room rates.
“It is feared that jobs in independent eateries and hotels will be negatively impacted and even the businesses themselves affected in the longer term.
“I would also like to question whether any improvements to the nearby infrastructure, such as key roads, will take place as I believe there are none planned at all.
“I would urge Babergh District Council to please take all of these factors into careful consideration and even reconsider the whole development before the formal planning application stage.
“The recreational space could be used much better by turning it into green space or by adding further facilities for families to enjoy.”
To learn more about the district council's proposals for the future of Sudbury, and to submit your views, go to www.babergh.gov.uk/whatnextforsudbury
More by this authorThomas Malina