Feelings run high at town revamp meeting

FEELINGS were running high at a public meeting last night as residents debated plans to demolish a host of buildings, including a church, to make way for a £10million town centre Georgian shopping development.

John Howard

FEELINGS were running high at a public meeting last night as residents debated plans to demolish a host of buildings, including a church, to make way for a £10million town centre Georgian shopping development.

Stowmarket is to undergo a huge transformation, as the United Reformed Church, shops and homes face compulsory purchase and clearance to make way for the new retail area.

But at the packed meeting, held within the large church, many residents and worshippers expressed dismay that they are being forced to sell the site which has been a place of worship since the 1700s and includes burials. The current church was built after the war, when the area was bombed.

Mid Suffolk District Council sees the land where the church stands as a critical part of redeveloping the community, ensuring it does not become a dormitory town.

But, during a question and answer sessions, residents said the project being undertaken during the credit crunch was in real danger of becoming a giant white elephant.

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One said: “What you are saying is that you will do what you want regardless. Mid Suffolk District Council will ride roughshod over people and do what they want.”

Another added that no-one can believe what the authority is proposing to do to the church, and it was essential for the worshippers to retain a town centre site, although others said they were keeping an open mind.

Dave Benham, regeneration and community services officer with the council, said the meeting was called to let people know exactly what the authority is striving to achieve and why.

Mr Benham, who was among those giving a presentation last night, said: “We do not want rumours, we want to be as open as possible about it and have found that generally people have been very supportive.

“We do not want to see a campaign to save the church because of a lack of understanding. The church can be found a new home. This is a huge building and we could find somewhere better for their needs.

“If the church carries on here ultimately they will reach a crisis point in the future and could not sell that building, it is not something others would want. Ultimately everyone will come out of this better.”

Jon Pattle, an architect involved with the project, said: “This stretch of properties lets the town down - it is a 1950s and 1960s block which is really unattractive.

“We can recreate the attractive market town Stowmarket should be.”

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