Decision made on Ipswich County Hall plans for 40 flats
PUBLISHED: 16:30 08 January 2020
Plans to overhaul a derelict Ipswich landmark, which has lay dormant for more than 15 years, have been given the go-ahead,
Suffolk County Council vacated the former County Hall building in St Helen's Street in 2004, and has since then had fallen into a state of disrepair.
On Wednesday morning, Ipswich Borough Council's planning committee approved plans to fill the Grade II Listed building with flats.
However, concerns had been raised over the state the building had been allowed to fall into.
Councillor Carole Jones said: "I am really delighted to hear the owners are concerned for the welfare of this building, but I do note it comes to us because officers have served an urgent work notice.
"They already had one planning application approved here that was allowed to lapse, and I think they have been very poor protectors of this hugely important building.
"[The proposals] are not perfect but it's certainly to be welcomed that we have had this come forward.
"This is a building at risk, a really important building for Ipswich."
The main building dates back to 1836 when it served as a gaol and court, but extensions in 1906 allowed it to be used for council business too.
It's claim to fame was hosting the divorce proceedings for Wallis Simpson in 1936, which triggered the Abdication Crisis.
The larger of the two courtrooms is to be retained as a heritage space, although there is no material evidence as to which of the courtrooms was used during that historic case.
The heritage room won't be open all year round, but is likely to be publicly accessible on key occasions such as the heritage Open Days in September.
The site will feature 29 one-bed flats and 10 two-bed homes, with the former council chamber becoming a three-bed flat.
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Those proposals came under fire from the Ipswich Society, whose chairman John Norman described it as a "portacabin" within the old council chamber.
He added: "We really are between a rock and a hard place on this one.
"The Ipswich Society support town centre living and support the conversion of this building into a residential site but we are very concerned about the way it has been planned."
Now that planning permission has been secured, it is not yet clear when work will begin.
Lionel Thurlow, architect on behalf of developers Harris and Wilton, said: "We are very pleased and hopefully we can move the project forward.
"It's a very important building in Ipswich and the history of Ipswich - going back to when it was a prison and gallows to the connection with Wallis Simpson and the divorce. It's a very important building and we want to build on that with a contemporary design in the courtyard behind it.
"We have done a lot of the urgent works to the building to secure it, but we will take on board all the comments made."
A condition of approval includes financial contributions, including £122,000 towards public open spaces, £49,788 for primary education, £22,378 for secondary schools and £33,192 as a pre-school contribution.
County Hall and the 1936 Abdication Crisis
In 1936, Ipswich's County Hall became the centre of international attention when its court hosted the divorce proceedings of Wallis Simpson.
Mrs Simpson met Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1931 while still married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson - a shipping executive and former Coldstream Guards officer.
Having fallen for the royal Prince, and allegedly becoming his mistress, the County Hall was where she had her divorce bid granted, amid claims that Mr Simpson had committed adultery, which paved the way for her to marry Edward, then becoming King Edward VIII.
It sparked the 1936 Abdication Crisis, where King Edward's marriage to a woman with two living ex husbands was deemed controversial. The King abdicated in order to marry Mrs Simpson, leading to his brother George ascending the throne as King George VI.
During the weeks leading up to the hearing, Mrs Simpson lived in Felixstowe.