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Ipswich: When will the County Hall shame be put right?

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 November 2012 | UPDATED: 09:48 28 November 2012

County Hall

County Hall

Archant

THREE months ago The Star published shocking photographs which revealed how thieves, vandals and rough-sleepers had wrecked County Hall.

But today, despite repeated calls for plans to be drawn up to protect the landmark, it remains in an appalling state.

Now The Star is demanding action is taken to save the former home of local government in Suffolk – before it’s too late.

The historic heart of County Hall – St Helen Court – remains insecure and recent attempts by the borough to contact the building’s owner have failed.

There is hope that another organisation will take on the restoration of one of the town’s best-known buildings – but the size of the project could be an obstacle and it is not clear what its future use could be.

Redundant council buildings

WHEN the county council sold all the buildings that made up the former county hall, there were clear plans for many of them.

Its buildings in Rope Walk, including St Edmund House, were sold to the East of England Development Agency. Most were demolished to make way for Suffolk New College – the future of St Edmund House which was built in 1984 remains unclear, but it is likely to eventually be sold off as offices by its current owners, the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Unattractive 1950s-build offices were demolished and new homes have been built – but that was not an option for the historic former heart of the council.

Its listing means that not only its external appearance but also its interior has to be retained – making any redevelopment problematic.

The Victorian Society has placed the landmark on its national “at risk” register. It is also listed by the borough as one of the town’s most at risk buildings.

County Hall hit the international headlines in the 1930s when Wallis Simpson was granted her divorce there to allow her to marry King Edward VIII, which sparked the abdication crisis.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer echoed The Star’s plea: “This is a very well-known building at the entrance to the town centre and all efforts must be put into trying to bring it back into use,” he said.

The Star has made repeated attempts to contact the building’s owners but the firm has never returned our calls to discuss County Hall’s future.

The business – Rainbow Developments Ltd, through its associated company County Hall (Ipswich) Management Ltd – has also proved difficult to contact for borough officials, who are keen to discuss ways in which to secure the site from trespassers.

Both companies are registered at an address in Park Lane, Puckeridge, Hertfordshire. Both have had the same director registered – David Hugh Harris.

Mr Harris is also a director of another company – M&D Developments – which is based at Hengrave Hall near Bury St Edmunds and is responsible for the management of the building that has been empty since the county council moved to Endeavour House in 2004.

County Hall (Ipswich) Management is listed in its most recent accounts, dated in February, as having no assets and no cash in the bank – it is described as a “dormant company” by online credit checking agencies.

The Star even visited the firms’ registered address in Hertfordshire, but was unable to track down the director. We have called M&D Developments three times over the last month. Each time we were told that a director was not available but that our message would be passed on and someone would call back. No return calls have been received.

Representatives from M&D Developments had been due to meet officials from the borough council to discuss the future of the building, which dates from 1837.

However conservation officer Gail Broom said attempts to contact the managers responsible for County Hall recently had proved fruitless.

She said: “Recently I have heard nothing from them.” Ms Broom said she was concerned about the effect of rain seeping into the building, possibly followed by sleet and snow as the winter sets in.

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