Plans for former post office to be submitted in the next few weeks

  A planning application for a key strategic site in Bury St Edmunds town centre, is to be submitted with the next few weeks.

West Suffolk Council is to submit an application for 17-18 Cornhill – the former Post Office site – in early August.

The application for two ground floor business units with 12 flats above, subject to approval, will deliver on some of the key aspirations of the Bury St Edmunds Town Centre Masterplan.

St Andrews Street South is an important street running between the arc and the historic town centre. It was identified in the masterplan as in need of major improvements to help the old and the new parts of the town centre feel more coherent as one place. The Council proposes creating a dramatic new front. Not only will this include a new shop front curving into Market Thoroughfare, it is also designed to reinvigorate the street, encouraging other landowners and investors to see the potential for what can be achieved there.

It has long been the Council’s ambition to improve Market Thoroughfare, enabling people to see from either end to the parts of the town that lie beyond, encouraging greater movement between the historic and the new – and it was a public ambition echoed in the masterplan. Market Thoroughfare will be widened by more than 50 percent taking it from 2.4m wide to 3.8m. This is being achieved by the Council giving over ground floor commercial floor space while the design will provide visitors with a gradual visual blend from the modern arc to the historic Cornhill.

The Cornhill front, which lies with the Conservation area will be enhanced through the removal of a step to improve access and the creation of a second arch which will not only acknowledge the historic Bell Arcade but also serve the wider Market Thoroughfare.

Cllr John Griffiths, Leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “This is about the Council investing, taking the lead and a key stake in the future growth of Bury St Edmunds town centre, not just as a place to trade, but as a place to work, live, visit and enjoy social and leisure activities. We have always been keen that this project would deliver economic and social improvements for the town as well as contributing to its future success as a place that people want to come to.”

Cllr Susan Glossop, Cabinet Member for Growth at the Council said: “These designs have been shaped through the 8000 comments that we received when people took part in developing the Town Centre Masterplan. We held a public exhibition of concept drawings last summer and received huge praise and support. We have since looked at other ways to maximise the economic and social benefits for this important town centre site.”

The planning application itself has been purposefully delayed while the Council explored how to deliver affordable housing as part of the scheme. To deliver affordable housing the Council would need a registered provider to take on the ownership and management of the flats. It has spoken to the major registered providers of affordable homes in West Suffolk but none of them would take on the ownership and management of these flats due to the high service charges. That in turn would mean they wouldn’t be affordable for people seeking affordable housing.

The Council’s own planning policy means that developments over 10 homes or more need to deliver 30 percent affordable housing on-site or in exceptional circumstances the equivalent value off-site.

Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, West Suffolk Cabinet Member for Housing said: “Without a registered provider we are unable to deliver affordable housing on site. A traditional developer may have simply scaled back the number of flats so not to cross the threshold requiring affordable housing. That is not our approach. Instead we are looking to deliver affordable housing, possibly even at social rents, in Bury St Edmunds, by way of a commuted sum. This effectively means that we will provide the equivalent funding to enable an RP to purchase affordable housing. We will provide extra units on top of what is already being provided by that RP. One advantage of this is that we know from our housing register that there is a really strong need for family sized homes, as well as homes at social rent which is a lower cost to tenants than affordable rent. This approach means that we can look at how we deliver to meet some of this need and set an example to other developers and registered providers.”