Town group submits bid to transform site as council considers options
- Credit: Sudbury Social Enterprise Bid
A group is hoping to preserve and transform a town’s “priceless” assets as a council site goes up for sale.
Babergh District Council announced plans to dispose of a 0.43 hectare area which includes a Victorian Villa — Belle Vue House — car parking and part of an old town swimming pool.
Under the council’s plans, the southern section of the neighbouring derelict lido next to Belle Vue Park would be retained by the council and is earmarked for a new park entrance with space for a new café, toilet facility and “improved public realm”, it said. Belle Vue Park itself will remain intact.
The council’s cabinet meets on Thursday, March 11, to discuss six bids for the site for sale — including one from a prospective Sudbury Social Enterprise. Criteria considered will include long term sustainability, price and deliverability.
Plans for the spot have ebbed and flowed over the last decade — including a plan to create a hotel and restaurant by the roundabout it abuts which was scuppered amid the pandemic — but they have all fallen through.
Now the town group is hoping that its third self-funding bid to regenerate the site will succeed — and that the effects of lockdown may help concentrate minds on creating an “experiential” draw for Sudbury, which like many market towns has taken a big hit from the pandemic.
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The £100k purchase bid would preserve the main house with a café on the ground floor and three holiday lets above, and add a new wing with eight to 10 residential flats, possibly as a premium semi-sheltered property.
The sale of the flats could create a £1m profit to pay for renovating the park are at a cost of £550k and creating the cafe and holiday lets at around £900k — which would then generate rental income and jobs, the group says. Around them would sit some car parking and an area of parkland with a piazza.
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Sudbury businessman Theo Bird, who chairs the group, said the aim was to create something for the benefit of the people of Sudbury which would also attract visitors to the town.
“Our funding model is for the social enterprise to act as the benevolent freeholder with ongoing oversight on the scheme but to sell businesses in order to fund/cashflow the scheme — this achieves the goal and maximises the opportunity in a small market town,” he explained.
“Our key goal is to use this opportunity to enhance the town centre offering, and increase the quality of life for residents in the Sudbury and surrounding feeder villages in a sustainable, economically sound manner.”
While town residents know and love its amenities such as the water meadows and River Stour, the site could provide a centrepiece to “really lift up the town centre and to show off its amenity in the form of a park”, he added.
“Sudbury has been hit quite hard by covid with the closing down of the town centre,” he said. “Sudbury is a classic market town. But the future of the market town is declining because of online shopping.”
He added: “I think there has been a big consciousness shift about valuing public space and what it means.”
He urged townspeople to approach their councillor to have the proposal included as a preferred bidder.
“Our bid is unique opportunity to transform Sudbury and secure inward investment for the next 50 years,” he said.
“In other towns where they have regenerated parks the visitor numbers have gone through the roof, so we think that could generate another 2m visits to Sudbury a year.”
Lord Phillips of Sudbury said: “Belle Vue House and People’s Park are priceless and historic assets of this remarkable town which these proposals will, by and large, enhance. Above all they would avoid the dire danger of Babergh simply selling to a commercial buyer only interested in maximising profit.”
Those behind the proposal believe it could draw 2m visitors to the town and add £20m to the local economy.
“According to our survey estimate we believe the prepandemic size of the town centre economy in 2019 was circa £175m per annum, split roughly £15m to the small shops and £150m to the big chains including Roys and Waitrose on East Street,” said Mr Bird.
The retail hit from covid would put the new figure at around £140m, he said. “We strongly believe it unrealistic to think that pre-pandemic in town spend will ever recover as according to KPMG by 2028 53% of all retail sales will take place online — it currently stands about 20% — driven by millennials and younger who prefer to shop online and by 2028 will constitute over 50% of all retail spending with high street decline set to be around 10% per annum between now and then if we weren’t in a pandemic.
A council spokeswoman said: “The land around and including Belle Vue House and the northern part of the old swimming pool site were openly marketed and bids were received from both community and commercial organisations. There were six bids submitted by the closing date and all have indicated that they will retain and refurbish Belle Vue House.
“The report that will be presented to cabinet has recommended that up to 100% of the receipt of the sale could be used to develop a new park entrance which will include the southern part of the old swimming pool site.”