Ipswich: Plans withdrawn for St Clements hospital homes

St Clements Hospital site, Ipswich

St Clements Hospital site, Ipswich

Proposals to create more than 200 new homes on the site of the former St Clement’s Hospital have been withdrawn after the borough and a health authority disagreed about the number of “affordable” properties to be built there.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which owns the site, had applied for permission to convert the Victorian hospital into 48 homes and to build a further 179 homes in its grounds.

Borough planners felt the design of the development was acceptable, but felt that 35% of the new-build homes should be “affordable” and offered to a housing association.

The NSFT, which runs mental health services in the two counties, felt this was too high a proportion – it had proposed that about 4.5% of homes should be affordable and said that a higher proportion would make the entire scheme uneconomic.

The application was discussed by councillors in December, but they put off making a decision to allow for more negotiations with the NSFT. However, the trust decided to withdraw the application.

Leigh Fleming, commercial director at the NSFT, said: “We have worked for some time with Ipswich Borough Council to resolve the future of the St Clement’s Hospital site.

“While the council had no overall objections, there were some finer details – specifically the agreements that deal with social housing – which we were unable to resolve at this time.

“We recognise that the local community desperately needs additional housing and we will be meeting with Ipswich Borough Council over the next few weeks to bring the matter to a speedy and mutually beneficial conclusion.”

The council’s opposition housing spokeswoman Judy Terry said the decision was a major blow for the town.

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She said: “The trust employed external consultants and the borough employed different external consultants. Both said the scheme would not be viable if the borough insisted on 35% of affordable homes.

“But officers came up with a report that said the target was feasible – even though the trust made it clear that would cause it to lose money on the deal, and as a government body it has to secure the best possible deal.

“Now there’s going to be yet more empty land in Ipswich that will left empty because the borough insists on this high threshold – what about building homes that people can afford to buy?”

Ipswich Conservative MP Ben Gummer warned that the borough was becoming a “no-go” area for developers.

He said: “It’s only interested in the Northern Fringe. There is a desperate need for new houses, especially starter homes for people to buy, and the borough’s policy is strangling that.”

Borough leader David Ellesmere said it was important to ensure as many affordable properties as possible were built in the town – his authority is currently planning to build about 300 council houses over the next three years.

He said: “We have spoken to independent experts and they say the figure for affordable homes on that site is achievable and we will be speaking again to the trust about this.”

The borough had made a bid for the land last year to develop a mixed private/council housing development, and would be interested in reviving that proposal if the NSFT wanted to sell the site.