Sudbury bus station will be relocated from its current Hamilton Road location insists Sudbury Steering Group chairman Simon Barrett.
As thousands of people have signed a petition against the moving of the station to Girling Street car park the Free Press has taken an in-depth look at the station plans, how the decision to move to Girling Street has come about and discusses with Mr Barrett what it is the steering group hopes to achieve at the Hamilton Road Quarter.
In September last year the steering group announced it was to ask Suffolk County Council to come up with designs for two proposals, one for Girling Street and the other for a split hub design with hubs in Girling Street and Great Eastern Road.
In January it was decided Suffolk County Council should move forward with the Girling Street plan, with Simon Barrett now insistent too much work has been done for the station to remain where it is, deemed to be blocking the redevelopment of the Hamilton Road Quarter.
In 2012 at a public seminar Babergh District Council agreed that the bus station needed to be removed from the quarter to allow for its redevelopment, after previously supporting schemes to redevelop the station within plans for the quarter.
“When we went to market [for the redevelopment] it became obvious we couldn’t include the bus station as the station took around one third of the site,” said Mr Barrett.
Suffolk County Council was then instructed to come up with alternative locations and plans.
This resulted in initially six options being produced,with a seventh split-hub option later added:
l To improve the current site.
l To replace the station with on-street stops.
l A station with access off Great Eastern Road.
l The station to be placed off Station Road next to the leisure centre.
l Built on land adjacent to the rail station.
l Built within Girling Street car park.
l Split location in Girling Street and Great Eastern Road.
These were discussed by Sudbury Steering Group which chose the split option as its preferred option after looking at a number of factors including distance from the town centre, cost, deliverability and the ability to redevelop the Hamilton Road Quarter.
All seven options were shown at a public consultation at Sudbury Town Hall in July last year and then discussed at a well attended Sudbury Steering Group meeting in September.
“At the consultation it became quite clear that the public didn’t like the split site option so we revisited and looked at the Girling Street and Kingfisher car park options,” said Mr Barrett.
“We came to the conclusion that the Kingfisher option would be very difficult to deliver. There were quite a few problems.”
These included costs involved from having to put in a roundabout, altering the privately owned Roy’s car park junction and still requiring the loss of around 70 car paring spaces.
Mr Barrett said this had also proved to be unpopular with Roy’s, Waitrose and the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, where the spaces would be lost.
It was also on the outskirts of the 400m guideline of proximity to the town centre.
From here Suffolk County Council was asked to come up with two designs for a station in Girling Street, as well as a design for the split hub.
In January, as well as the split-hub design being dropped, one of the two Girling Street proposals - which would have seen buses reversing out of the bay before leaving the station - was dropped.
Bus companies had raised concerns over pedestrian safety and vehicle reliability.
In initial designs, the steering group’s preferred option - now being worked on by Suffolk County Council - had six bays, all without the need for buses to reverse.
It also has shelters, toilets, real-time digital displays and disabled parking bays.
There will also be a pedestrian crossing from the station across Girling Street. The exit from the station will be controlled by signal so buses will not have to force their way into oncoming traffic.
The next step will be for Suffolk County Council to put together a planning application.
This will be the next and potentially last opportunity for members of the public to voice their opinions before it is decided upon by Babergh District Council’s planning committee.
Thousands of residents have signed a petition against moving the station to Girling Street and said the plans have been moved forward against the wishes of the electorate and without proper consultation.
However Mr Barrett said the plans were not something that had been put together quickly, instead “developed over a long period of time”.
He insisted that news of the move and the changes had repeatedly been in the public domain, with numerous articles included in the local press and public meetings and consultations, as well the plans being discussed by Sudbury Town Council.
“People have been saying there’s no consultation and it’s a done deal, but there has been a hell of a lot,” said Mr Barrett. “We can’t knock on every door.”
Mr Barrett agreed losing the car parking spaces in Girling Street was the major disadvantage of the proposal.
But he said that most of the time the lost spaces were not required.
Surveys have shown that on Thursdays and Saturdays, with the loss of spaces in Market Hill due to the market, visitors will have to “look quite hard” for a space in the town centre.
However, Mr Barrett said it was felt there was enough benefit that would arise from the Girling Street option, as well as allowing for the Hamilton Road redevelopment, for the Girling Street option to be taken forward.
He said this included the proximity to the town centre, adding that it would also help keep North Street viable.
Another advantage is the fact the site is owned by Suffolk County Council.
Mr Barrett played down the impact the station would have on traffic and pollution, saying it would be no greater than currently, and raised the problems currently experienced by bus drivers trying to exit the bus station on Great Eastern Road.
Some bus users and residents have criticised the idea of moving the bus station from its current location, citing the fact that potential plans drawn up for the station to remain where it is, but modernised, came out favourably in studies.
However Mr Barrett was insistent the station would be moved.
“Already a lot of work has been done on moving it,” he said.
“With the work we’ve done there’s no point having done all this to decide we are going to leave it.
“It is not an option. We are too far down the road now for this to be left.”
“It is part of the bigger picture. This is definitely the better option”
Mr Barrett understood some of the misgivings of residents, saying there was an element of not being able to show the full facts, with no definitive plan in place for what will replace the bus station in Hamilton Road.
He insisted residents would continue to be engaged in what was happening and said he would always be happy to explain to people how decisions had been made.
Last month the Borehamgate shopping precinct was purchased by Babergh District Council as part of an outlay of £5million which includes the former Cakebread Robey builders yard on Francis Road and Navigation House on Great Eastern Road.
Mr Barrett said the precinct was an investment opportunity to help generate incomes for the district council in a climate of waning grant funding from the Government, however the council could now control its future, deciding whether it too would become part of any redevelopment now or in the future.
The next step is to receive a masterplan with up to three designs for the Hamilton Road Quarter from Macegreen Consulting to show what is possible at the site.
This will then be consulted on by stakeholders such as local businesses, as well as being shown to members of the public.
The idea will also be ‘soft market tested’ to any potential developers, as well as stores, restaurants and cinema providers that might want to be part of the development.
The idea of having a cinema on the site has been widely publicised and reacted to both positively and negatively.
Mr Barrett said he believed Sudbury and its catchment area did offer the potential custom required for a cinema.
Combined, Sudbury and Hadleigh had a catchment area population of 92,871 in 2015 according to a report carried out by Carter Jonas.
With the closest alternatives for local residents being in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Colchester, Mr Barrett said: “If you can give people a better offer you can retain them.”
Mr Barrett was hopeful the masterplan would allow residents to finally see the potential of the site, admitting it was difficult to show this through ‘wordy’ documents.
After feedback from the masterplan has been received a developer would then need to be found.
It would then be up to the developer to put together a planning application, with Mr Barrett hopeful this could be put in place within the next year.
He said he was very confident retailers would want to come to the town, saying the reason other shops in the town had been left empty or taken up by charity shops was because they were not of the style and space many retailers wanted, with a modern purpose built facility catering for this.