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Delay over decision on long-term future of Sudbury’s former Walnuttree Hospital spark renewed concerns over housing

PUBLISHED: 11:00 19 December 2014

Walnuttree Hospital

Walnuttree Hospital

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Concerns over the future of a historic hospital building in Sudbury have re-emerged after a decision over its long-term fate was delayed.

An artists impression of the Walnuttree Hospital site under the contemporary design proposal. View taken from the west aspect.An artists impression of the Walnuttree Hospital site under the contemporary design proposal. View taken from the west aspect.

Babergh’s planning chief Christine Thurlow advised the council’s planning committee to defer their verdict on whether the soon-to-be redundant Walnuttree Hospital should be converted into housing.

This was because an independent financial viability study commissioned by the applicant, West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust, had failed to establish the viability of the project.

Initial plans submitted by the trust last November included a much needed community hall, but this idea was later dropped because it was not deemed cost effective.

The latest plans, which went before the planning committee on Wednesday, were to retain and convert the Victorian core of the building into 36 flats. A further six would be created in the former outpatients’ building – originally earmarked as a community hall – and seven new townhouses would be built on site.

But Stephen Thorpe, of the Sudbury Society, said if the plans were not deemed viable - even without a community element - the NHS Trust could be forced to abandon the idea of converting the building at all.

He said: “We suspected they might find that keeping the building and converting it would not stack up financially.

“The architect thought it was possible but any developer that takes it on has to be able to make it viable.

“The alternative is that the site is flattened and the buildings are replaced with the standard developer stuff, which would be unthinkable in a conservation area.

“It is much more costly to convert an existing building than it is to demolish it and start again so this decision to defer on the grounds of viability is a real worry.

“Also if the application is deferred for too long after the hospital ceases to be used, it will be another empty building open to vandalism and we would view this with great alarm.”

Sudbury hospital WATCH group chairman, Peter Clifford, said the future of the building was still uncertain. He added: “West Suffolk Hospital says it is still unsure about it (the project) but the only test is if it’s put on the market and a developer comes along.

“I hope they can come up with some sort of compromise to go ahead and at the very least preserve the core of Walnuttree Hospital.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust said they had consulted extensively about the plans for the Walnuttree site to ensure that, wherever possible, local people’s views were taken into account when the proposals were drawn up.

He added: “As such, we are disappointed that full consideration of these plans – which were broadly welcomed during the consultation – has been delayed further.

“We submitted a viability study as part of our original application in April, but understand that further detail is now required.

“We have asked the council to clarify exactly what information they need and will provide these details as soon as we hear back from them so that we can ensure the application can be determined at the next available opportunity.”

The application, along with the possible development of St Leonard’s Hospital into 12 houses, is expected to be revisited in January.

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