Mildenhall Hub


Commonly asked questions about the Hub

As we receive them we will be adding answers to commonly asked questions about the Hub, so please check back to this page.

1. What did people say in the pre-application consultation?

2. Have all of the partners formally signed up to the Hub?

3. Will the fire station be relocated to the Hub?

4. How will the roads cope when the Hub is built – they’re already busy?

5. Will there be enough parking?

6. Why is it so important to move the school?

7. Is this a pipe-dream that will never happen?

8. Will the Hub be safe for pupils?

9. How big will the new swimming pool be?

10. What is the connection between the Hub and the Local Plan growth site for over 1000 homes?

11. You say we need all these facilities but we could get them without having to spend millions simply by waiting for the RAF Mildenhall closure?

12. What will happen to the existing footpaths?

13. Is it too far out of the way for people to use?

14. Will the Hub be bad for the town centre?

15. Don’t customers only want to visit one service at a time – why combine them in a Hub?

16. Isn’t putting all services in one place a risk? What if there is a fire?

17. Is this just about the Council building itself a plush new office?

18. Will the Hub still be needed if there is a new single district council for West Suffolk? 

19. What about the houses at the Hub that were in the Development Brief?

20. How will work on the Hub be procured and when will it start?

 

1. What did people say in the pre-application consultation?

View comments people made during the pre-application consultation

2. Have all of the partners formally signed up to the Hub?

The planning process will be testing the maximum extent of the hub concept, and the design is flexible enough to take into account any changes in operational requirements in the public sector.

All of the partners listed in the pre-application consultation materials and earlier business cases are fully signed up to the project in terms of exploring its technical and financial feasibility. However, they will all need to make their own final decisions about whether to proceed or not before building starts, as they would in any project of this kind.

3. Will the fire station be relocated to the Hub?

Suffolk Fire and Rescue has decided not to go ahead with plans for a new fire station as part of the proposed Mildenhall Hub development. The decision comes following a series of successful local public engagement events.

This decision will allow the service to keep its options open into the future, with the opportunity to review in years to come to match the changing requirements of the town as further housing and infrastructure are delivered. The current planning application will be adapted to reflect this minor change. 

You can read the full press release from Suffolk County Council.

4. How will the roads cope when the Hub is built – they’re already busy?

We have always recognised that traffic and parking have been key issues for a Hub at Sheldrick Way, and all of the consultation, including the most recent in 2017, has confirmed that this remains a concern for local people. That isn’t a reason for not doing the Hub, it just means it is an issue that we will need to address. Bus routes can also be amended.  

A traffic assessment by AECOM for the planning application estimates that the worst case scenario would result in drivers waiting on average no more than thirty seconds longer during rush hour as a direct result of the Hub at the North Terrace/Kingsway/High Street three-arm roundabout. Ways to reduce this and other impacts on local roads will be looked at by the Highway Authority as part of the scheme.

The study adds that the Hub will mostly redistribute existing journeys in the town and won’t trigger a need for a relief or link road on its own. That road would be looked at separately in the future, alongside work on the future of RAF Mildenhall.

You can view summary documents for the various highways issues

5. Will there be enough parking?

Yes. We are planning for 300 spaces initially with an additional overflow parking area for events such as school sports days. There will also be room for more parking to be added in the future if needed. However, the nature of the Hub facilities means that a lot of parking can be shared – for instance, school parking will be available for the leisure centre in the evenings, at weekend and in the school holidays, when leisure facilities are most busy.  

6. Why is it so important to move the school?

Young people in and around Mildenhall deserve the very best education and learning environment. The proposed new building at the Hub will be world-class and give the town’s already oversubscribed academy the extra capacity it needs. Being in the Hub will also provide strong connections with local businesses and services and this will give students the best opportunity to play a valuable role in their community, improve their wellbeing and raise aspirations and skills. The learning spaces in the Hub will also be available for the whole community to use, young and old.

7. Is this a pipe-dream that will never happen?

Mildenhall College Academy urgently needs to replace its old buildings and have room to grow in the future, with all of its facilities on one site. It has secured the necessary Government funding in order to press ahead and Sheldrick Way is the best site to do that. The town’s leisure facilities also need replacing and, again, Sheldrick Way is the best place to provide a single leisure centre. 

Whether the rest of the Hub project happens or not, these two issues – which represent over two-thirds of the floor plan of the Hub and will generate the greatest amount of traffic to and from the site – will still need to be addressed, and funding is being brought together to do that. Without the Hub though, the wider community benefits of combining them with other services will be lost.

8. Will the Hub be safe for pupils?

Safeguarding has always been the primary design principle for the Hub, dating back to the first business case in 2014, and evident in the first draft scheme provided for public consultation earlier in 2017. There will be a separate pupil entrance to the Academy, with a fenced ‘safeguarding zone’ around the school buildings and playing fields. Just as there is now at Bury Road. The design of access roads, bus drop-offs and car parking will also be designed to provide separation between vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists.

The internal link between the school and the public parts of the Hub will have secure doors, and pupils will not be able to use this route unless supervised by staff (for instance for supervised use of the library). The public parts of the Hub will also be fully staffed during opening hours.

It is also worth noting that the current campus at Bury Road has public access for the Dome leisure centre, and there are other examples in the UK where community facilities are integrated with schools. Here is just one example: Tidemill Academy and Deptford Lounge.

9. How big will the new swimming pool be?

The swimming pool at Mildenhall is a community pool with a catchment of around 20 minutes drive time serving the area between Bury, Ely, Newmarket and Thetford pools. The current pool is a four lane 25m pool, with limited spectator facilities. 

Following the advice of Sport England and the Amateur Swimming Association, what is planned for the Hub is a six lane 25m pool, with more spectator seating, plus a separate 20m x 8m learner pool with a moveable floor. 

The new combined pool size will be over two times larger than the current pool. Although this will cost more to build than a replacement of the existing pool, Forest Heath believes it is important to address both a current shortfall in swimming provision in the district and a need to future-proof facilities for future growth in and around the town.

As well as being financially sustainable, the new pools will be very flexible, allowing different uses at the same time, and also offer a fantastic new home to the Mildenhall Sharks.

10. What is the connection between the Hub and the Local Plan growth site for over 1000 homes?

The two schemes are separate, and not dependent on each other. The proposed Local Plan growth site is to cater for the demand for extra homes in the area, and is covered by a separate process. While the design of the Hub will be ‘future-proofed’ to cope with any additional homes in and around Mildenhall, wherever they are built, the first phase of the scheme is required now to provide the facilities the existing residents of the town and surrounding villages need.

In some Local Plan consultation documents, the Hub is shown as part of a wider proposed growth site, because the growth land to the south of West Row Road is in a single ownership. However, in planning policy terms, the principle of the Hub is already agreed in the adopted 2016 Development Brief.

11. You say we need all these facilities but we could get them without having to spend millions simply by waiting for the RAF Mildenhall closure?

The base is still set to close in the 2020s – but we don’t yet know exactly what will take its place or when this will happen. What we do know is that there is a huge need for these facilities now, to serve the existing population. The school and leisure need cannot wait what could be over ten years. Without investment the existing swimming pool will have to close for a substantial period while money is invested to refurbish it, and even then it will be too small for the town’s needs. The school upgrade similarly cannot wait and will go ahead with or without the rest of the Hub project.

The Hub is also closer to the town centre, and to more existing residents, than any site(s) that may become available on the airbase.

12. What will happen to the existing footpaths?

The Hub is intended to have good public accessibility. Some of the existing paths within the Hub site will need to be diverted (and at the same time upgraded).  However, the Hub will be designed to retain public access from Sheldrick Way through to the river, and the existing bridleway to West Row will not be affected. A new pedestrian and cyclist route through to Wamil Way/Church Walk will also be created (although there will be no vehicular access to the Hub from Wamil Way).   

13. Is it too far out of the way for people to use?

Actually the Hub brings all these facilities within walking distance of the town centre, allowing people to combine visits. At present, to use all of the facilities in the Hub, people have to travel to several sites, only one of which is in the town centre now (the swimming pool).   

It is acknowledged that, for residents on the east of the town, some facilities will be further away but, taking the population served by the Hub as a whole, a single location, within walking distance of the town centre, is felt to offer the most benefits to the most people.  

Also, the best way to protect and grow the services is to find more efficient and effective ways to provide them, which a shared site does.

14. Will the Hub be bad for the town centre?

Only the swimming pool is currently located in the town centre, and it will still be within walking distance at the Hub. A recent retail study concluded that the existing swimming pool site offered a good opportunity to improve the retail offer of the town centre if vacated, as part of a wider town centre masterplan.

People visiting the Hub by car will also be able to leave their car while they walk into the town centre too, and this will bring them onto the High Street.

15. Don’t customers only want to visit one service at a time – why combine them in a Hub?

This isn’t always the case. As an example now, Forest Heath’s College Heath Road site currently includes the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as well as the CAB and district and county council services. There is already a large cross-over in users of these services, and their visits to the building, and having things co-located makes things easier for not just the user but also the service providers. It also avoids the taxpayer having to pay for separate buildings.

And that is just in relation to ‘advice’ services. The Hub will create whole new possibilities, given the natural fit between the services. If you are a health centre worker trying to encourage a patient to join a gym or get more active, you could arrange for someone to show that patient around the leisure centre next door? If you are running a library with a school and pre-school next door, you could encourage reading by holding specific events for those children and parents? And so on.

16. Isn’t putting all services in one place a risk?  What if there is a fire?

As explained in other answers, there are considerable benefits of co-locating facilities in one place - it will make it easier to access and join-up services and avoid duplication in costly infrastructure. 

However, the Hub does put all of these public facilities in one place and, during the earlier consultations, we were asked whether this was a fire risk, that is ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’? Mitigating this risk has always been factored into the design of the buildings, which will meet all building and safety regulations and the requirements of insurers. Specifically, there are also plans to install a sprinkler system in the new buildings.

17. Is this just about the council building itself a plush new office?

No. Since the move to shared services with St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which saves £4m a year, Forest Heath’s staff have adapted to new ways of working – with some working occasionally from home and most now splitting their time between working in the Forest Heath offices in Mildenhall and at the St Edmundsbury offices in Bury St Edmunds. Combined with the transfer of staff over the years to other organisations (leisure trusts, housing associations and Anglia Revenues Partnership), we now, as a result, have a building that is too big for our needs. It is also getting old and is in need of considerable investment to keep it running. While we could spend millions fixing it up, it would still not be fit for purpose, and would duplicate facilities already provided in the town. 

Even though the large majority of the scheme is actually for frontline services like education, health, leisure and the library, the Mildenhall Hub project would see us considerably reduce Forest Heath’s office space, and allow it to share everything it uses as an organisation - for instance, sharing a council chamber with the school and rest of the community. It would also reduce the overall footprint of the public estate in the town by around 20 per cent.

The Hub isn’t about Forest Heath, or any of the ambitions of any one of the individual partners for that matter. Instead it is about an investment in local people, and shaping facilities so they are at the right level to meet current and growing demands, and of the standard that local residents deserve. It is also about creating stronger natural links such as between the health centre and the leisure centre, the school and the library.

Whatever happens, the school and leisure centre are likely to need to move to Sheldrick Way – without the other partners this would have most of the traffic but without the community benefits that the rest of the Hub project will bring.

18. Will the Hub still be needed if there is a new single district council for West Suffolk? 

This is still only a proposal, affecting only the Forest Heath elements of the Hub. However, the short answer is, yes, the Hub will still be needed, and the scheme will not be affected by these discussions, whatever the outcome of them.

Most of the Forest Heath facilities in the Hub are operational and will still be needed – being a leisure centre and office/reception facilities for the already shared workforce of the two West Suffolk councils. A single council for West Suffolk would also still want the option of holding councillor meetings in Mildenhall.

Therefore the current plans for 75 FHDC desks and a suite of shared meeting rooms do not need to be changed whatever the outcome of discussions about a single district council later this year. 

19. What about the houses at the Hub that were in the Development brief?

The original thoughts for the scheme did include a small element of complementary housing – around 15-20 units for key workers or people with specialist needs. This is no longer the case as there is no housing associated with the Hub site itself. 

20. How will work on the Hub be procured and when will it start?

Principal design work for the Hub will be provided by Concertus Design and Property Consultants, appointed under a framework agreement with Suffolk County Council. See http://www.concertus.co.uk/

If the project receives planning consent, the main building contractor will be appointed under Suffolk County Council’s construction framework later in 2017.

Subject to planning and procurement, it is hoped to start work on site in early 2018, with the first new facilities at the Hub opening to the public in 2020.