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Campaigners react to decision to close archive branches in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft





Campaigners have reacted to Suffolk County Council’s final decision on the closure of archives branches.

Last night, county councillors approved their budget for the next financial year. Within the report were proposals to close both records offices in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft and move them to The Hold, in Ipswich.

The decision, which was announced in early January, sparked controversy among residents of both East and West Suffolk districts, with a campaign led by the Bury Free Press (SuffolkNews), Bury Society and Bury St Edmunds Town Trust garnering more than 2,500 signatures.

Campaigners have reacted to Suffolk County Council’s decision to close the West and East Suffolk archives. Picture: Mark Westley
Campaigners have reacted to Suffolk County Council’s decision to close the West and East Suffolk archives. Picture: Mark Westley

Councillors and campaigners were told the closures, which are expected to save £140,000 a year, were due to West Suffolk Council scrapping its Western Way project, where the county council had promised to invest £3.4m to keep the district’s archives.

Martyn Taylor, Bury Society’s chairman, said councillors had not properly investigated other options, such as moving the archives to West Suffolk House, and called on them to invest the money that had been promised into doing so.

He added: “It was a foregone conclusion yesterday, the council had made their minds up no matter how many passioned pleas people made, they were adamant about what was going to happen.”

Campaigners fighting to keep the records office in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley
Campaigners fighting to keep the records office in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley

Although the decision means all statutory documents such as marriage certificates will be moved to Ipswich, during the meeting, cabinet member for equality and communities Cllr Philip Faircloth-Mutton, said a working party will be set up to better analyse the future of non-statutory archives.

John Popham, trustee of the Bury St Edmunds Town Trust, welcomed the setting up of the working party but said councillors had missed the mark.

He said: “There shouldn’t be a compromise because all of the documents important, statutory or otherwise and, therefore, all the documents should stay locally.

“We really respect the needs that the county has and we’re pleased the council has been able to do whatever they needed to provide them as well as possible but, in this case, they haven’t got it right.”

Martyn Taylor, John Popham and Eve Burrows have worked to save the archives. Picture: Mark Westley
Martyn Taylor, John Popham and Eve Burrows have worked to save the archives. Picture: Mark Westley

The Bury Town St Edmunds Trust has also submitted a formal maladministration claim to the council’s monitoring officer asking for a complete review of the decision — a response is expected to take 20 working days.

Mr Popham added: “We do recognise there may be other sources of funding to make this a possibility and once it has been examined properly, none of us can argue about it.”

Other promises were also made by the council which included how to best improve accessibility to the archives by making them available on-demand as well as online.

But West Suffolk councillor, Julia Wakelam, said this was still far from what residents wanted.

She said: “The council frankly put their political position against what their residents wanted. There is no talk at all about reversing the decision and leaving the records in West Suffolk where they belong — it’s deeply disappointing.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for digitising the records, there clearly is, but you need to be able to hold the documents because you can see so much more.”

East Suffolk Council leader, Caroline Topping, said she would work with Cllr Faircloth-Mutton to keep Lowestoft Local Studies Library in the town, but added that she was disappointed it hadn’t been given as much attention as that of West Suffolk.

She said: “It is a shame they did not show the same consideration and enthusiasm for defending the East Suffolk Archive and recognise ‘that’ archive’s importance to the residents of East Suffolk in retaining them in Lowestoft.

“It was and still is important to the residents of East Suffolk to be able to have easy access, be able to celebrate and enjoy their local ‘place-making’ heritage without having to travel a 94 miles round trip to access it at The Hold in Ipswich.”