BELLE VUE HOUSE AND PARK AND TRAFFIC – the Society Planning Group’s response to the consultation about the future of Belle Vue – August 19 2014
This is one of the town’s great assets, with its variety of formal, organised and informal spaces and its close proximity to the centre of town. It should be developed to meet more fully the needs of those who use it either regularly or occasionally. It needs to be more easily reached by its users from a variety of directions.
The house holds many of the town’s memories, going back to 1914-18 when it served as a Red Cross hospital for wounded servicemen. Opinions differ about its architectural value and importance but, with its former grounds (now the Park) it is certainly an important part of the Sudbury townscape which fully merits its Local Listing. The principle of keeping old buildings where possible and finding new uses for them is a sound one, (see Babergh’s Core Strategy 2011-2031), although we accept that converting a 140-year old building with many small rooms would be a challenge. However, the Society strongly supports the retention of the core building – if not incorporated in a hotel then perhaps as a residential home or a youth Hostel. This would leave the former swimming pool site for another use.
Any proposals for Park and House must take the traffic situation into account – this will be a test of how serious we are about a Town Plan.
As a piece of urbanism the Belle Vue traffic arrangement is a disaster. It is a wasteland contained only by the historic street frontage from the much diminished Pied Cow up King Street, and by the retaining wall to the old police station which once closed the view down King Street. Otherwise the space drifts away down Cornard Road and Great Eastern Street, and the unlovely bulk of Borehamgate with its ugly backside dominates the view on entry. It needs to be contained and reconfigured to suit both traffic and people, the arrangements for the latter are incomplete and hazardous and take little account of where one would choose to go or cross.
A shared space solution, well conceived, would take less space and provide scope for an urban space of quality which resolved the vehicle/pedestrian conundrum, provided better access to the Park, related Park and Town visually and created a fine entrance to the town centre. We understand Suffolk to be committed to the shared space approach and an earlier Local Transport Plan did suggest the possibility of such a solution here. It would however be a complex issue to resolve and experienced consultants may need to be called in.
GETTING TO THE PARK
Some information on how various visitors to the Park reach it is needed and would be a guide to proposed approach and entry points. The direct connection between town centre and Park is important, and visually also, but there are pedestrian routes down Newton Road and Belle Vue Road. Coping with the significant change in level needs to be resolved for older people and those with disabilities, and those with buggies to push. Perhaps both a route from the town centre, incorporating a public access lift, and a crossing of Newton Road as suggested.
This raises the question of developments along Newton Road and their impact on pedestrian movement. The St Leonards site development awaits a planning decision, there will no doubt soon be proposals for the old tax office site, and possibly the BT site will be sold and redeveloped. There is an immediate need for Babergh/Suffolk to establish the criteria defining development of the latter two sites which take into account pedestrian and vehicle movement. Access to parking for the developments which will take place on the Belle Vue sites is an important element. The two councils must be proactive on all this. The Prolog saga is a lesson in the problems which arise when planning authorities are just reactive.
We welcome the suggestion of an “active frontage” towards the town and it will contribute to the new urban space suggested above. How this will relate to the Belle Vue sites and how an entry point to the Park will be incorporated will require close collaboration between developers and planners, and above all the townspeople. Real consultation is needed here! The planners will also need to be tough on design quality. One of the budget hotel chains may be interested in the site but these chains erect what are little more than decorated boxes with no respect for their local context. Borehamgate stands as an awful warning.