Norfolk council team steams into Suffolk
A HISTORIC Suffolk train station is set to house some unlikely new tenants this week: staff from Norfolk County Council.Even though the next strain arriving at platform one may be a distinct Norfolk twang, townsfolk and traders have welcomed the extraordinary cross-border journey as the property arm of Norfolk County Council moves into Needham Market's railway station.
By James Fraser
A HISTORIC Suffolk train station is set to house some unlikely new tenants this week: staff from Norfolk County Council.
Even though the next strain arriving at platform one may be a distinct Norfolk twang, townsfolk and traders have welcomed the extraordinary cross-border journey as the property arm of Norfolk County Council moves into Needham Market's railway station.
The new tenants, however, will not actually be moving very far. Norfolk Property Services have been working for Mid Suffolk District Council and have been based down the road at the district council offices in Needham Market. The 19th century station has been irregularly occupied since it ceased working as a manned station in the early 1970s. It soon became neglected and an easy target for vandals.
But following a £750,000 facelift, the gap in the town's Station Yard will be sealed with the arrival on Friday of Norfolk Property Services, who have included Mid Suffolk District Council among its clients since a management shake-up at the district council in May last year. NPS, a commercial business, also has offices in Chelmsford and Long Stanton.
The team of 20 surveyors, engineers and architects, who actually worked on the refit of their new offices, are renting the Grade II listed premises from Spatia, Railtrack's property wing, who will continue to own the building and the rest of the yard.
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The rail firm came under fire from Mid Suffolk when the building, designed by famed station architect Frederick Barnes in 1846 fell derelict. Two years ago they embarked on a £500,000 renovation project. Since July last year, NPS, who acted as consultant architects on the orginal project, have been adding £250,000 of finishing touches, including installing heating and electrics.
Dennis Norman, practice manager of NPS Mid Suffolk, told the Star: "All of us had previously been employed by Mid Suffolk and found we were then in the employ of NPS and we needed premises. The railway station was up for let. We had worked on it and we knew about it and so we took the project forward to a stage where we could move in."
Businesses in the area consider the news a big boost towards regenerating the area.
Shuel Chawdhry, manager of the nearby Curry Inn Indian restaurant, is glad the station will become a focus of activity.
"Somebody being there will lift the area," he said. "Now they have restored the building to its former glory, long may it continue. It was so sad that a prominent building like this was allowed to become derelict - and it is such a beautiful building."
The station was at one time very similar in design to the Stowmarket's mock-Elizabethan station, another example of Barnes work. But renovation work in the 1920s removed its distinctive Dutch gables and ogee roofs, explained NPS architect Linsay White.
"The ground floor was then the waiting room and booking office," said Mr White, who is also president of the Suffolk Association of Architects. "Upstairs were flats for the station master and the head porter."
The station is still in use as a stop for trains travelling on the Ipswich and Cambridge line. Ironically, although it also lies on the Norwich to London line, none of these trains stop there.
Now townspeople looking forward to having their train station back in business.
Wendy Marchant, district councillor for Needham Market, said that the station will now take centre place in the town's bid to triumph again in this year's Anglia in Bloom competition.
"We need to do something new for in this new millennium," she said. "We are all thrilled that eventually this building has been renovated. It will be a facelift for the whole area."