Action group launches £20,000 appeal for legal challenge against planned land sale for development at Belle Vue in Sudbury
A community campaign to try to block the sale of land in Sudbury for development has begun, with organisers seeking £20,000 to legally challenge the potential loss of public open space.
Momentum has started to build behind a crowd-funding appeal launched on Monday by an action group opposing development at Belle Vue, which collected £2,300 in donations in 48 hours.
The appeal was set up after Babergh District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted to uphold the cabinet’s approval of a commercial bid to purchase council-owned land, including the vacant Belle Vue House and part of the former swimming pool site.
The chosen buyer – selected from six different offers following a two-month marketing process – intends to convert the house into residential properties, and build a new retirement living development on the pool site.
But the decision has prompted the action group, Sudbury People Against Development At Belle Vue Park, to pursue a judicial review against these plans, claiming that the town has already lost a substantial amount of open space due to development.
Group administrator Glen Harding-Payne said they believe the full park, Belle Vue House and the old pool site should all be retained for the community’s benefit.
“This campaign has been going for several years, but it’s got to the point where we have to move this challenge forward,” he told Suffolk News. “We really need to go at this hard now, because we’re running out of time.
“We’ve got a team of people looking at this and digging into the legal aspects. Sudbury has got a bad history of losing open space.
“Belle Vue has been regarded as open space for years and we don’t want to lose it. We want to save this area from development, and we also want to save the house and see it renovated and given back to the community.
“The concern is that once the land is developed, there’s nothing stopping them from submitting another proposal to demolish Belle Vue House and develop it further. Once somebody owns the land, that can change the whole landscape.”
The group is also in the process of setting up a digital petition, which they expect will be open for people to sign on the e-petition page on Babergh District Councils website in the coming days.
The decision to market the parcel of Belle Vue land for sale was made following the collapse of new hotel and restaurant plans last year, after the development partner withdrew due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesman for Babergh District Council stated that all money from the land sale would go towards creating a new, more accessible entrance to Belle Vue Park.
Michael Holt, Babergh’s cabinet member for economic growth and chairman of the Sudbury Vision Steering Group, said: “The proposals we received were very varied and we considered each application, as well as all the submitted objections, against a set of criteria and how this would ultimately benefit Sudbury.
“I am delighted we have been able to make a decision that secures the future for Belle Vue House and the surrounding land.”
But Mr Harding-Payne argued he felt the cabinet had not properly considered all of the facts or heard all of the objections before selecting a commercial bid for the land.
He added: “The general consensus I’ve heard from residents is people spent a lot of time in the park when they were younger and still go their with their families. They feel it has been left in a poor state, particularly the area that’s up for sale.
“A lot of the feedback we get is that people say it was a beautiful park and the house looked amazing, and it has been left to rack and ruin.
“In the situation we’re in with the pandemic, the timing is really poor. We feel people need parks and open space more than ever. That’s why we’re fighting to retain the land for the community.”
The group is accepting donations for its legal challenge either online here, or via Fleetway Garage in Great Eastern Road, Sudbury.
Among the six offers to purchase the land at Belle Vue were two separate community bids, which have also expressed frustration at how the bidding process was handled by Babergh’s cabinet.
Local businessman Barry Drury, who wanted to acquire Belle Vue House for use as a multi-purpose facility, claimed nobody from the district council had been willing to hear him out on his proposal.
“Over the years, I’ve tried about three or four times to buy Belle Vue House,” he told the Free Press. “There has been no contact from the council in about six years. Nobody even phoned me to ask if they wanted to have a meeting.
“My proposal was to preserve Belle Vue and give it back to the people of Sudbury. I was going to do what the public wanted. It could have been a wedding venue, a conference centre, or a day centre.
“It’s a lovely building, and it was once Sudbury’s building, but once it was given to Babergh, they could do what they wanted.”
Another community bid, submitted by the Sudbury Social Enterprise group, set out a four-part plan to regenerate Belle Vue House and the park, with ambitions of delivering a major annual boost to the town centre economy.
Theo Bird, who led this bid, said: “I am disappointed there was no discussion about the economic benefits of the bids.
"Our scheme would lift the Sudbury town centre economy by £20m per annum and lift the value of the Borehmagate Precinct site by 20 per cent, set against a forecasted decline in Sudbury retail spending of £17m per annum year-on-year between now and 2030, due to online shift.
“I worry about the legacy of cramming retirement flats with no amenity next to Sudbury’s busiest junction. Councils have a history of poorly-conceived housing schemes with real social consequences.”