The Society’s biggest battle of the year so far was to oppose the architect’s proposals for ‘The Hold’, Suffolk County Council (SCC)’s new Record Office to be located on the University campus. A difficult one, as we didn’t object to a new Record Office, nor to its proposed location, its joint use with the University or even the removal of trees protected by Tree Protection Orders (TPOs).
What we did object to was the design, and we weren’t alone; both SPS (Suffolk Preservation Society) and RIBA Suffolk (Royal Institute of British Architects) also saw the missed opportunity to create a landmark building. The Suffolk architects had discussed the scheme at their meeting, their secretary had written a letter of objection and architect Tony Swannell and I both spoke at the Planning Committee.
Neither of us can quite understand why SCC’s development proposals in the centre of Ipswich should be determined by the SCC Planning Committee (most of the members of which don’t even have an IP postcode). The fact that they are going to award themselves planning permission is probably a ‘no brainer’.
The public meeting of the SCC Planning Committee was by far the least participation-friendly I’ve ever been to. To suggest that the public were ‘tolerated’ is an understatement, and that to speak at the meeting (as we were entitled to do) was an intrusion into their deliberations.
The Chairman and the Planning Officer presenting are so far from the public gallery it’s impossible to see expressions on their faces, or to see their eyes, impossible to determine if they are listening or establish if you’ve got your point across. The TV screens displaying the plans are arranged for Councillors and not the public.
Objectors are allowed five minutes to present their case; there were two of us so just two and a half minutes each. A warning bell sounds after two minutes to completely put you off your stride, and at exactly two and a half minutes the Chairman interrupts, even if you are in mid-sentence and says, quite forcefully ‘time’s up’. Thus it is near impossible to deliver your message, particularly when it’s not as negative as being an outright objector.
We were obviously not going to win but when the Chairman counted the show of hands he announced a different figure to the number of Suffolk County Councillors in the room (?).
Most of you will have noticed that work is under way on the Cornhill where it is pleasing to see a local contractor undertaking the improvements. As I write, there are still issues with the market traders: those in upper Princes Street feel cut off (the contractor’s hoardings enclose almost all of the public square blocking the line of sight from Lloyds Arch), those in Queens Street are clearly reeling, attempting to operate in what feels like total isolation, detached from upper Princes Street and out of sight from Giles Circus.
There has been some last minute publicity from the Borough Council to try and rectify matters but given the five years since a move was first mooted, and Suffolk County Council’s position (expressed in stone by the pedestrianisation of Queen Street, complete with underfloor electrical hook-up points) and indecision before the move actually happened, were palpable.
It all smacks of 1972 when they moved the market from its long-standing location inside the Corn Exchange to the Greyfriars shopping precinct where it simply died.
There is clearly no decision on where the market is going once the Cornhill repaving is finished. If all of the stalls had gone to Queen Street as SCC intended then they could have stayed but, with some in upper Princes Street, the hot food in Queen Street and presumably occasional stalls on the new level platform in the Cornhill it will be, to say the least, scattered.
[Sadly, the development of ‘The Hold’ in Ipswich seems to be inextricably linked to the planned closure of Lowestoft’s branch of the Records Office by Suffolk County Council; surely a retrograde step. -Ed.]