Not-for-profit town bidders slam council decision on Victorian house
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A row has erupted after district councillors chose a commercial developer over a not-for-profit alternative for a facelift project on an historic site.
Babergh District Council’s cabinet considered six bids to transform authority-owned Belle Vue House in Sudbury following a decade of setbacks and unsuccessful schemes for the site which has had various uses over the years, including a hospital.
At a behind-closed-doors meeting, councillors chose Bidder B, a private developer which plans to create a “retirement living development” and convert the existing Victorian house back into private living accommodation. All six bids wanted to retain the house.
The bid was recommended by council officials but details are scant and the council said it was unable to reveal bid details or the identity of the successful bidder — or any others — because of rules around commercially-sensitive information. There would be a five-day call-in period following the decision on Thursday night (March 18), a council spokeswoman said.
The site lies next to a derelict outdoor town swimming pool and includes northern part of the old swimming pool site. The council wants to use the money from the sale of the house and pocket of land to fund a new entrance to Belle Vue Park, which lies behind the house and lido. It would include a café, toilets and public open space with the costs involved in transforming the area funded by the sale of the main house.
One of the unsuccessful bidders was Sudbury Social Enterprise which wanted to create a café on the ground floor of the house with three holiday lets above and a new wing with eight to 10 residential flats — possibly operating as a premium semi-sheltered property.
Local businessman Theo Bird — who is chairman of the Sudbury Social Enterprise bid — said he was “very disappointed” and felt the social enterprise bid wasn’t properly considered. The notion that it encroached outside the parcel of land for sale was wrong, he said. However, his organisation’s “self-funding” bid did make suggestions for improvements to the “public realm” area around the next-door lido site.
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“The Social Enterprise Bid does not encroach outside the parcel of land for sale — we only made suggested improvements to the public realm that would be funded by our bid, our café terrace could be licensed from the council just like any other street café,” he said.
“I was also disappointed there was no public discussion about the economic benefits of the bids — in particular how the bids will increase economic activity in the town.”
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He would also be writing to his local councillor — and encouraged others to do the same — to complain about “needlessly selling a 5m encroachment into Sudbury’s People’s Park to a private developer”.
Sudbury resident Laura Knight said: “I was quite shocked at the lack of interest by some members to discuss the points raised in the objections made. In particular, the council selling off public open space in my view is a material consideration.
“I had understood the main reason for the sale was for regeneration but an option to put retirement living on the site doesn’t seem to address that given their were bids on the table that would clearly provide a regeneration opportunity.
“Those voting for the preferred bid seemed to misread or not appreciate the sentiments of many in Sudbury or the views of Sudbury Town Council with the “I’m sure the people of Sudbury will learn to love it” comment in the closing remarks.”
Babergh hailed the decision on the bid as “a new era for Belle Vue House and entrance for Belle Vue Park to welcome town centre visitors”. The plans would “provide residents and visitors with a welcoming and fully accessible public space and an improved connection to the town and will be complemented by a new café and new toilets”, it added.
Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for economic growth and chairman of the Sudbury Vision Steering Group councillor Michael Holt said they had considered each applications and objections. He was “delighted” at the decision which secure the future of the house and surrounding land, he said.
“Confirming the future for Belle Vue is part of our wider vision for Sudbury which includes rejuvenating the town and creating a place where people want to live, work and visit for many years to come,” he said.