Bartlet at risk as its fate still not sealed

IS there any point in protecting buildings to which the public has no access?

I am thinking here of Felixstowe’s former Bartlet Hospital, a fine and much-loved piece of architecture, but one which is destined to be converted into luxury apartments with panoramic sea views to envy.

Unless you have a very large bank account or a job which pays as well as Andrea Hill’s, and can afford to buy one of the flats, or are fortunate to have a friend or relative who can, you will not be able to enter the building ever again.

It will be privately owned and enjoyed.

At the moment though, the prospect of builders moving in to create the expensive apartments is a long way off.

Suffolk Coastal’s planners and English Heritage – excellent guardians and defenders of our most prized historical and architectural gems, from buildings to battlefields – are at loggerheads with NHS Suffolk, the Bartlet’s owners.

The health trust is keen to sell the building, which is listed for its architectural importance, with planning permission – it will be easier and fetch more money.

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Despite ongoing debates over the past four years, there is still no agreement on how to convert it.

The problem is the preservation of certain elements – such as the Nightingale Ward, fixtures and fittings and the dining area – and including these in their original state in the new flats.

Councillor Mike Ninnmey is one of those at the forefront of the fight to ensure these elements are kept.

But surely, much as I admire them, English Heritage need to lighten up a bit, and give way on a few issues if a scheme is ever to prove successful.

The exterior of the property, which the public will still be able to view, must surely be preserved, but the inside, despite some very nice features, can hardly be called a national treasure. Why is there a necessity to force people to conserve something which will be out of bounds to the public and they will not be able to see or enjoy?

Of course, we shouldn’t let builders rip out willy-nilly any building’s interior just because it is in private hands, but planners need to recognise when something is worth saving in its entirety and when something can be changed sympathetically but allowing it to be used for modern living or working.

There has to be a compromise reached.

If not, the Bartlet will simply stand idle, unheated, decaying, at risk – like so many Felixstowe properties before it – of the dreaded arson attack. No-one wants that.

? Give me your views – write to or Your Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, or email

? Read Richard Cornwell’s full column every week in FX – the eight-page pull-out all about the Felixstowe area in the Evening Star every Wednesday.