Town and district councils divided on what should be done with Belle Vue House site in Sudbury
Hotel plans in Sudbury would be best suited for the Belle Vue House site, according to a town council vote – but Babergh District Council says it would prefer the building be re-used rather than demolished.
A majority of members at Sudbury Town Council voted to approve two resolutions relating to future development in Belle Vue Park last Wednesday, following a public meeting two days earlier to discuss community proposals for the derelict Belle Vue House.
The council stated all interested parties should be consulted on any bids for the Victorian property, and that any planning application for a hotel in the park should be at this site, with a development boundary defined by the wall of the old swimming pool site.
The second resolution reads: “Babergh District Council should ensure that the development of a hotel is sympathetic to both the park and the town.
“Any development should be joined with opening up the park and creating an attractive new entrance.
“Some of the money should be used for regeneration of the park and expenditure on new equipment.”
But Babergh leader John Ward says this resolution has somewhat muddied the authority’s work to develop a planning application for a hotel and restaurant elsewhere in Belle Vue Park.
Cllr Ward told the Free Press their primary goal is to work with community groups to come up with a viable long-term business plan for Belle Vue House, stating two groups are understood to be interested.
“We are genuinely interested in people’s ideas for re-use of the house,” he said. “Our last resort, if no viable use came up, would be to convert it into apartments.
“We will obviously need to think about what the town council has said, but at the moment, it’s not Babergh policy to demolish it.
“Community groups do need to start a dialogue with us. And that dialogue should be directly with us and not through Facebook.”
The new town council resolution comes after various proposed uses by the community for Belle Vue House, including Sudbury businessman Barry Drury, who has put forward a final bid to purchase the 19th century building for community use, warning it could be lost forever if the site is sold to a private company.
Cllr Ward confirmed the district council has received the offer from Mr Drury, but argued it needed more detail, and he urged community groups to engage directly with the authority.
He also claimed there was a lot of misinformation circulating online regarding Belle Vue Park, and that lies had been deliberately spread to “incite the mob”.
“The comments online are just pure fabrication,” he said. “They couldn’t be further from the truth.
“There have been accusations that we are withholding material and stopping people visiting the house, and none of that is true.
“The trouble is there’s so much nonsense going online, which has resulted in some highly abusive, insulting and threatening comments directed at me personally.
“People think they have the right to be increasingly abusive, and that’s really not the way forward.
“For us to convert it into accommodation or for it to be demolished, as the town council have suggested, are not the preferred options.
“We certainly wouldn’t be selling to a private developer. If it came to a re-developing for residential accommodation, we would do that ourselves through Babergh grants.”
Cllr Ward said viewing dates are now being arranged, to take place over the next two or three weeks, to allow interested parties to book visits to Belle Vue House and discuss their proposals.
The idea of a flats conversion has been supported by Sudbury town councillor John Sayers, who has written to Babergh’s cabinet member for assets and investments, David Busby, to urge the council to consider this proposal before making a final decision.
Cllr Sayers said: “I think it would be a mistake to introduce any additional buildings onto this site, and suggest that Babergh, under their acquisition policy, converts Belle Vue House into flats as a long-term investment, with resultant revenue used to offset costs relating to maintaining the park area.”
Among the ideas from community organisations is the Sudbury Belle Vue Community Bid, which has put forward projects to regenerate the property and the surrounding area, including the old swimming pool site, funded through various investors and grants.
At last week’s public meeting, the community group proposed turning the ground floor into a café and the top floor into residential units.
The group also suggested developing a shared space to rent out to businesses, and hosting weddings and functions in the grounds, to provide sources of income for renovating and maintaining the site.
In response, Cllr Ward stated he welcomed the ideas for Belle Vue House, if they could be shown to be financially viable.
“This idea of a wedding venue is fine,” he said. “If they can make it into a long-term proposition, I don’t have a problem with that.
“The immediate gardens would make an ideal backdrop for weddings. That is a good idea, if they can make it pay.”
He added that he hopes to see a clear plan for the Belle Vue House site in place by the end of October.