County Hall's renaissance is a cause for real celebration
PUBLISHED: 11:08 21 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:09 21 August 2014
The best news of the week, at least so far as I was concerned, was that the former County Hall building in Ipswich could have a new use at the heart of east Suffolk's heritage.
New development shows the importance of gardens
The northern fringe is going to be developed to provide much-needed new homes for the town, and as we get nearer to work starting we will have to accept its new name “Ipswich Garden Suburb”.
In my view that name is important in that it firmly places green areas, and in particular gardens, at the very heart of the huge new development. Like many people, I cannot really imagine living in a home without its own garden – however small – where you can sit out on hot summer days to enjoy both being outdoors, and with a certain amount of privacy.
If you look at the masterplan for the new development there are a number of areas of parkland set aside for community use, but it is also clear that most of the homes will have their own little patch for their owners or tenants to enjoy.
Of course there are some people who have no interest in gardening and prefer to live in flats – but in most cases these are best in or very near the centre of the town.
That is where the Waterfront really scores in Ipswich.
But new developments on the edge of Ipswich will be most attractive for those who want to feel a link with both the town and the country – so the statement of intent that the northern fringe will be a “garden suburb” is very important for its development over the next decade.
Turning it into a new register office and a new Suffolk Record Office looks like a genius solution to a problem that has been blighting that part of the town for many years.
The only question is why wasn’t this considered years ago?
It’s a win-win-win for the town and the council. Last year Ipswich Register Office, in its comfortable but frankly unspectacular venue in Rope Walk, saw 321 wedding and civil partnership ceremonies.
How many more people would opt for a register office ceremony if the ceremony was in a spectacular venue like the old council chamber?
I’m also told that while the application is by the developer and current owner of the building, officials from the county have been involved from the start – and it is extremely unlikely that the proposal would be turned down.
It is also clear that there is a strong team at Endeavour House looking to move the Ipswich record office to the rest of the historic St Helen’s Court.
Yes, there are technical problems and they are still working on these – but it is clear that everyone is looking for a way to make this work, looking for solutions rather than problems.
That’s great news because converting this building and bringing it back into use is much more than just being about restoring a Victorian pile. It should bring a massive economic boost to the eastern end of Ipswich town centre.
The register office should come first. With the planning application lodged and a fair wind behind it, there is no reason why formal permission should not be granted in the autumn and work start early next year.
We’ve all seen the pictures taken inside recently and there is work needed – but I’m told the building is basically sound and the conversion is not a major construction job.
By the time the register office is completed, hopefully the records office will be sorted out and work can seamlessly move along St Helen’s Street.
Which should mean that within a few years County Hall should be back in use as a centre of the community.
Can you imagine the effect that will have on the shops nearby? It’s the kind of news the County of Suffolk pub opposite has been waiting for.
It’s not the most attractive building in the world, but it is imposing and it does make a statement about the town and the county – and 10 years after the county council moved out there are many people ready to welcome it back home.