Ipswich Icons: Suffolk police HQ at Martlesham Heath brought a centralised approach to crime fighting

The Suffolk Police headquarters building in Martlesham Heath.

The Suffolk Police headquarters building in Martlesham Heath. - Credit: Archant

The Suffolk Constabulary was established (in its present form) on April 1, 1967 combining those forces that had previously served West Suffolk, East Suffolk and the County Borough of Ipswich, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

A single central headquarters building was required and a 27-acre site on the heath at Martlesham was selected. This site provided immediate access to the A12 (now the A1214) and was conveniently situated between Ipswich, Woodbridge and Felixstowe.

The police headquarters is a multi-functional building which houses a wide diversity of activities as well as setting the standard for the force itself.

The prime function carried out in the building is to direct and monitor the operations of the county police, while additionally providing specialist facilities to support these activites.

It should be noted that police headquarters was not designed for contact with the public, although inevitably there was to be some public presence.

This is particularly true of the meeting hall which, although primarily for briefing and the training of police officers (and cadets), would also be used as a media centre and for awards and presentations thus this part of the building should be accessible without compromising security elsewhere.

Other functions in the original brief to the architects included garaging and workshops for the force’s vehicle fleet, stores for the vast array of equipment used by the police and amenity space including a canteen, changing rooms and recreational areas.

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Specialist facilities incorporated into the new headquarters included firearms training, crime scene investigation (now at Landmark House), collision analysis, dog kennels and driving skills (a skid pan).

At the time of construction Suffolk police trained some of their own cadets and therefore the building at Martlesham included residential accommodation, classrooms and sports facilities (all of which were additionally used by established personnel attending specialist short courses). Oh, and parking for 400 cars!

The architectural practice Building Design Partnership were appointed to make sense of this complex set of requirements (in April 1970) and contractor Haymills had turned the plans into reality by the summer of 1976. The programme may sound excessive but each individual section and the whole, once assembled on paper, needed Home Office approval. Additionally in September 1973 the Government imposed a freeze on all new public sector expenditure, a delay which cost the project six months.

Given the open aspect of Martlesham Heath and the rural setting between existing mature trees, the architects chose low rise buildings, mainly single storey, with the main HQ building rising to four storeys, spread out campus style to minimise the impact on surrounding residences and to allow the car parking to split into a number of separate courts.

BDP selected reddish brown clay bricks externally but additionally used some fair faced brickwork internally which has stood up well to the test of time.

Large grassed areas were created for the sports pitches and additional trees were planted but around the perimeter the existing heath was maintained with its gorse and silver birch trees.

In the early 1990s a single storey local emergency centre was added, funded by Nuclear Electric (now EDF), providing facilities for the various agencies to jointly manage response to major incidents.

A new police investigation centre was opened in the summer of 2011 which included 30 cells, a central facility freeing up the requirement to hold suspects in local police stations.