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Motion by councillor Julia Wakelam to try and keep local archives within West Suffolk is approved

A motion seeking to defer the closure of an archives branch has been approved – however, a county councillor said ‘it’s a little too late’.

The motion was proposed by Cllr Julia Wakelam during West Suffolk Council’s meeting last night and follows Suffolk County Council’s decision to close both West and East Suffolk’s local archive offices and move them to the Hold, in Ipswich.

SCC said if West Suffolk’s record office were to stay at its current location, in Raingate Street, in Bury St Edmunds, it would cost £5 million — moving the archives, however, is expected to save £140,000 per year.

Cllr Julia Wakelam has called on Suffolk County Council to defer implementing the closure of the Bury St Edmunds archives branch. Pictures: Varied
Cllr Julia Wakelam has called on Suffolk County Council to defer implementing the closure of the Bury St Edmunds archives branch. Pictures: Varied

Cllr Wakelam’s motion calls upon Suffolk County Council to suspend the implementation of the closure and engage with West Suffolk Council, as well as other stakeholders, to find a different solution.

She said: “These are the physical manifestations of our history and our collective sense of identity. Regardless of how often one visits the records office, to remove them is to erase our heritage and our connection to past communities.”

These concerns were echoed by Dr Rachel Wood, who spoke about the archives’ importance during the meeting’s public participation section.

Cllr Nick Clarke, opposition leader. Picture: West Suffolk Council
Cllr Nick Clarke, opposition leader. Picture: West Suffolk Council

She said: “When archives are stored away from the community to which they belong, it’s a bit like putting things up in your loft — out of sight, out of mind.

“I fear that what is being suggested is the breaking up of our precious heritage. This is not simply a matter for Bury St Edmunds, it touches all of us in the west.”

There was some pushback, however, from Conservative leader, Cllr Nick Clarke, who, despite supporting the keeping of the records locally, described the motion as the wrong way to go about it.

He reiterated last week’s county council comments that the decision had been taken as a result of the cancellation of the Western Way project, where the records were proposed to be kept with the help of a £3.4 million investment by the county’s leaders.

Cllr Clarke: “This is a case of naive politics — there was a deal that was agreed, a deal that both sides could trust. But this Labour-led administration decided to break that deal by trashing the Western Way project.

“Shouting at the county council, by way of this motion, will achieve nothing.”

The council is led by the West Suffolk Working Partnership, which includes Labour, the Independents, the Lib Dems, and the Greens.

Councillor Beccy Hopfensperger. Picture: Submitted
Councillor Beccy Hopfensperger. Picture: Submitted

Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, who is also part of the county council’s cabinet, added: “The motion is a little too late and it doesn’t add anything meaningful to the solution.

“The time to raise this motion was when Western Way was cancelled which makes this debate slightly superfluous as a decision has already been taken.”

However, she revealed that the cabinet member responsible for the archives, Cllr Philip Faircloth-Mutton, had now agreed to meet West Suffolk’s leader Cllr Cliff Waterman — following several public criticisms over lack of engagement.

Cllr Wakelam welcomed the talks, as well as the setting up of a working party, but said she hoped the conversation would be in the spirit of keeping all of the records locally.

Cllr Waterman added: “When the County Council looked at relocating the archive in early 2023, they considered the option of moving to Western Way costing around £3 million or staying at Raingate Street at around £5 million. It was not a case of if they did not move to Western Way they would move out of West Suffolk. Indeed, moving the archive out of Bury St Edmunds altogether was discounted by the County at this time for operational reasons.

“If the cancellation of Western Way is the only reason that the archive is being closed then logically there would still be £3.5million of capital in the County Council’s budget and the revenue to run the archive in Bury. But we understand that this money has now been prioritised for the massive savings the County Council are having to make.

“Our offer still remains to work together to keep the archives local which is why I was pleased to back this motion.”

The motion passed with 32 votes for and 14 abstentions.