NHS, wildlife and heritage groups have say on council office redevelopment in Woodbridge
PUBLISHED: 16:07 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:07 09 August 2017
Overstretched doctors’ surgeries could struggle to cope with the influx of new patients occupying 100 homes proposed for the site of former council offices.
More than 300 objections have so far been lodged against plans for a development dubbed ‘the giant cheese wedges’ at the old Suffolk Coastal headquarters – including from the NHS, which insists primary care must be expanded to deal with insufficient capacity.
Five weeks have passed since Active Urban Property Group submitted plans to develop the site on Woodbridge’s Melton Hill into 100 residential units – 33 deemed ‘affordable’, with mortgage fees below market levels – a community building and shop.
Since then, 320 objections – weighed against 12 letters of support – have been punctuated by the concerns of organisations routinely consulted on planning applications.
NHS England said the homes would have a likely impact on funding for primary care, which must be mitigated by way of a contribution from the developer. Two surgeries within two kilometres of the site would, otherwise, have insufficient capacity for additional growth.
Developers have promised a landscaped environment, ‘free from cars’, with 93 resident parking spaces and six visitor spaces located underground.
Woodbridge resident Clifford Smith, former chief planning officer and chief executive of East Suffolk County Council, said the number of visitor spaces was inadequate.
“Developments of this type attract a huge number of callers by car,” he added.
“I estimate the six spaces should be 36, with tight management, as all residents will fill them 24 hours a day.”
Chief among concerns are the scale and density of the homes, which Natural England said would have “potential significant effects” on protected landscape unless mitigated through on-site measures and proportionate contributions.
The National Trust and the Woodbridge Riverside Trust said the height of buildings could harm the character of the area, the skyline, and the setting of heritage assets at Sutton Hoo on the opposite side of the river, while the RSPB and Suffolk Wildlife Trust called for more evidence that no harm will befall the integrity of local habitats.
London-based architecture firm JTP hosted last April’s public workshops to create an ‘illustrative masterplan’ for the site, which changed ‘radically’ in the eyes of objectors scrutinising plans a year later – with the total homes going from 67 to 110.
Woodbridge county councillor Caroline Page, who coined the term ‘giant cheese wedges’ to describe the housing, said there were ‘huge and unexplained’ differences between the two plans.
In objecting, Ms Page also said local people were being priced out of Woodbridge, adding: “What our town needs is joined-up planning to provide housing at affordable rents – housing for young families; housing for ‘downsizers’; housing for disabled people and those starting off in life.”
Suffolk Coastal’s authority to decide on development of its own former headquarters has also been called into question.
Ms Page added: “The sale cannot go through until and unless planning permission has been granted – by the very council that stands to profit from the sale.”
Suffolk Coastal has previously said it is the only authority that can legally consider the proposal and that any decision would be based purely on planning matters.
In a letter to this paper, Woodbridge’s Lady Caroline Blois said offered a timely reminder to councillors and officers of their role as paid servants of a public which had produced a ‘resounding no’ to the project.
With hundreds of objections, there was “plenty of proof for councillors to be aware of what the public want,” she wrote.
JTP has said that the buildings are designed in a contemporary style, using a robust, local palette of materials including brick and timber, while most of the parking being underground would allow for attractive, safe pedestrian and cycling routes through the development to a new ‘meadow’ connecting to Deben Road.
The firm said that, while many had been positive about proposals, an exhibition in April elicited comments in relation to parking, height and number of homes. It said initial sketches were indicative designs, which Hoopers architects had then taken on, and that comments had prompted two buildings to be scaled down by one storey – taking the number of homes from 110 to 100, while keeping the same parking spaces.
The future of a Suffolk statue in front of the Melton Hill site appears more certain, as Woodbridge Town Council prepares for its restoration.
Until last month, when members voted to seek quotes for its restoration and relocation, the Drummer Boy’s fate was unclear.
After campaigners fought Suffolk Coastal’s plan to take it to new offices in Melton, the public voted for it to move to Market Hill – with the district transferring custody.
When developers revealed their own survey suggested it should stay put, the town council withdrew an application for the move. But Active Urban Property Group then revealed the statue was no longer prominent in plans – instead, offering to match-fund Suffolk Coastal’s £10,000 relocation grant or move it to another location on the site.
Suffolk Coastal proposed to remove and store the statue until its future was decided. But the town council chose to organise the restoration and relocation, and plans for work to start by the end of August.