Hotel proposals at Belle Vue Park in Sudbury 'far from a done deal', says former Babergh District Council cabinet member
A former Babergh cabinet member, who was ousted in the recent local elections, says hotel proposals for a park in Sudbury are “far from a done deal”, and that his preference is for an alternative development option.
The ambition to build a hotel on land in Belle Vue Park was set out in Babergh District Council’s Vision for Prosperity blueprint for future development in Sudbury.
The proposal has been controversial, amid concerns about its appropriateness and the potential loss of land, with an opposition rally held in April.
Prior to the district council elections, the Conservative administration insisted the development would be mainly on the derelict former swimming pool site, leaving most green spaces unaffected, and claimed there would be a net gain in amenities.
Now, Simon Barrett, who was cabinet member for the economy until losing his Sudbury North West seat this month, has told the Free Press that the hotel plans are not nearly as far along as many people believe, and suggested other ideas could garner more support.
Mr Barrett, a businessman, argued that a pavilion at the site of Belle Vue House, outlined in a feasibility study in 2012, could be “a better long-term option for Sudbury”.
“From a financial point of view, the hotel stacks up,” he said. “But as a Sudbury person and someone who uses the park, I think I prefer the pavilion.
“What I think would be good is to have the pavilion, move the hotel to the Hamilton Road quarter and turn that land [the old swimming pool] into a car park to serve Belle Vue.
"Let’s get it out there and see what people think."
Mr Barrett, who remains a Sudbury town councillor, stated that, while he was a Babergh cabinet member, he had been frustrated by the public perceptions of the plans for Belle Vue Park.
He said that discussions around a hotel development were in much earlier stages than a lot of people thought, and claimed that “nothing was set in stone” regarding its location, or if there would even be a hotel.
“This is what has annoyed me,” he said. “The hotel is not there yet.
“It could be moved to the Hamilton Road quarter, which might be more suitable and more viable. If you put a hotel into Hamilton Road, that could really up the ante there.
“It’s all up in the air. It’s important to get that message across. I think there are so many people who say ‘the hotel in Belle Vue Park is a done deal’, but it’s not.
“The key point is that if a planning application goes in, that’s the time when people can really discuss it.
“If the application went in and the hotel goes a long way into the park, I wouldn’t be for it either.”
Mr Barrett explained his preferred option for developing the park would be for the district council to build a pavilion at the site of Belle Vue House, which could then be rented out to a third-party operator.
The pavilion feasibility proposals, put forward in 2012, suggested the building could have a café, a function room, a terrace and office space, and Mr Barrett suggested it could be modelled on locations such as The Pheasantry at Bushy Park in London.
However, he believes the council had previously given this idea less public exposure than the hotel proposal, due to the expected backlash against Belle Vue House being lost.
But he argued that the house would be very difficult to convert in its current form, claiming that five previous offers to purchase it, including one from local businessman Barry Drury, had been rejected on the grounds that they were not viable.
“It might be we could convert the house, but we’ve still got an old building which is expensive to run,” said Mr Barrett. “You can’t do it with a very big overhead. It’s a real nightmare to get the balance right.
“Listening to the traffic on social media, I think the pavilion fits with what people are saying.
“It could be that we could get a conversion of the house to form a pavilion, but it depends on how much that costs.
“All of the work we’ve done so far indicates the cost of converting the house and the overheads of running it mean it’s not going to be feasible.
“It’s cheaper to actually knock it down, start from scratch and get a purpose-built building.
“There are some people saying that’s just being lazy, but it isn’t – it’s the realities in terms of financial viability.
“Although the people of Sudbury feel it’s unique, and we’ve always tried to appreciate that, it isn’t a substantial building in terms of history.
“They tried to list it in 2008 and again in 2016, but it was rejected both times. To be listed, you have to have something exceptional, and there’s nothing exceptional about it.”