Public buildings earmarked for new homes

FANCY a room with a view over Ipswich?How about the top floor of Civic Centre?Or if you're looking for somewhere secure, would you fancy a flat in the police station?And if you're having to make a judgement on where to live – you might be able to try the town's Crown Court in Civic Drive.

FANCY a room with a view over Ipswich?

How about the top floor of Civic Centre?

Or if you're looking for somewhere secure, would you fancy a flat in the police station?

And if you're having to make a judgement on where to live – you might be able to try the town's Crown Court in Civic Drive.

Three of the best-known public buildings in Ipswich could have a new use over the next 15 years according to the borough council's new local plan.

It suggests that Civic Centre, the town's police station in Elm Street and the Crown Court building could all be converted into flats, with a few restaurants and offices, over the next 15 years.

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A new Crown Court building is already planned for the town – it is to be built as part of the Ipswich Village project on Russell Road.

But it had always been planned that the current Crown Court would be handed over to the town's magistrates.

The current Crown Court is in the same building as the police station and the conversion would allow prisoners in custody to be brought in securely to magistrates without having to be driven across the road in a special van.

The new proposals estimate that up to 120 homes could be created on a site bounded by Civic Drive, Elm Street and Black Horse Lane.

The borough's head of strategic planning, Sue Arnold, said the proposal was very much a long-term idea – but it made sense to look ahead now.

"We know the Crown Court is moving, and while it might seem that the police station and Civic Centre have always been here, we have to think of other options," she said.

"The police are not unaware of these ideas and aren't hostile to them – we shall see how things develop," she added.

Local government might change dramatically over the next 15 years, with streamlining meaning large offices may no longer be necessary.

There is regular speculation that the functions of the county and borough council could be combined – in which case Civic Centre officials could move into County Hall.

Nothing has been decided – and Civic Centre is likely to remain council offices for most of the next 10 years at least.

But Mrs Arnold said a long-term plan gave people the chance to consider options.

"We have to consider what other uses there could be for these buildings," she said.

Suffolk Police spokesman Steve Henry said he was not aware of any plans to move Ipswich Police Station – but did not rule the idea out.

"The police station is a 1960s building which served its purpose very well when it was built, but design and policing has moved on greatly in the years since it was built," he said.

"If someone is going to offer us a large amount of money to convert it and build a new modern police station elsewhere in the town centre, we are not going to turn them down," he said.

Work on the new Crown Court building is due to start within the next few months and is expected to be completed next year.

Ipswich is already facing an explosion in new flat construction – new blocks have already been built by Bellway on the Waterfront and the Churchmans building next to the football ground has been converted.

Planning permission has been granted for, or applied for, nearly 1,000 further flats in the Waterfront area – which would inevitably affect the market for flats at Civic Centre and the police station.

But the likely affect is not easy to assess 15 years ahead – will the market be saturated or will the new construction provoke more demand from an expanding population?

And what will the British – or regional – economy look like in 10 to 15 years' time. Will it be booming? Will we be in the depths of recession?

Jim McDonald, from Bradford and Bingley Charles Hawkins, said there was strong demand for flats in the town centre – but accepted it was difficult to know what the market would be like in 15 years' time.

"At the moment there is a lot of interest in flats in the town centre – but there are a lot coming on to the market and it remains to be seen what effect that will have," he added.

New flats for Ipswich waterfront. See page 9.