Best Wishes from the Council, 1996

The Bury Society and the Borough Council have been associates – and occasionally opponents – over the many developments that have occurred in the town in the past half century. We were delighted to receive the following message back in 1996 when we celebrated our first 25 years.

Involvement in the local government function by the people of Bury St Edmunds has a chequered history. Bury St Edmunds is a town which was created by the abbey, for the abbey, the pope having decreed that the town was assigned to the service of the church. All its inhabitants were St Edmund’s men and under the domination of the abbey. The town was developed within a rigid, planned street pattern and the abbot’s enforcement officer demolished buildings erected without permission. The up-rising of 1327 extracted some concessions but these were short-lived.

Even when the tomb of St Edmund was defaced in 1539 and the abbot was pensioned off to a house in Sparhawk Street, the town did not receive its independence. The Guildhall Feoffees took on certain duties, such as repairing the town walls and bridges, but it was not until 1606 that the town’s first charter was granted.

Local government went through many changes over the next few centuries. The most recent of these was the loss of West Suffolk and the formation of the Borough of St Edmundsbury in 1974.

This period was significant not only for the reorganisation of local government but also for the emergence of participation by members of the public in civic matters. Local plans became the subject of open public meetings; anybody was encouraged to comment upon planning applications which were advertised; files became open for inspection. National and local amenity bodies were created by like-minded people coming together so that an informed point of view could be heard.

It was the proposal to re-develop the top of St John’s Street which caused the people of Bury St Edmunds to form their own amenity group in this way. The scheme would have been a development typical of the 1960s, designed by a nationally-renowned architect, with flat roofs and innovative materials. It would have entirely swept away a complete segment of the town centre. Few towns managed to escape redevelopment of this type and the Bury Society prides itself on being instrumental in the decision not to go ahead with the project.

While the Borough Council and the Bury Society may not always agree, there is no doubt that the consensus of opinion generated by the Society is always highly respected. Its members work hard to be involved in day-to-day planning matters as well as the big issues. All applications for planning, listed building and conservation area consent are vetted once a week and the Society is represented on the influential Conservation Area Advisory Committee. The Bury Society was actively involved in making representation on the local plan and, through negotiation, was able to achieve valuable modifications to policies and proposals. Its professional approach to the local plan enquiry was welcomed.

Any local amenity group will jealously guard its independence and its right to openly declare an opinion contrary to that being put forward by the local authority but both the Bury St Edmunds Society and St Edmundsbury Borough Council recognise that they have common goals. We wish to increase the town’s prosperity but to retain its character; we want to keep it a unique place in which to live, work, shop and play; we seek to conserve its historic buildings and protect its early street-pattern but at the same time we recognise that the town must be a strong player in the 21st century.

The Bury Society is affiliated to the English Historic Towns Forum and the Borough Council is an active member of that influential and well-regarded body. We are both working together to organise the annual conference of the English Towns Forum in the town in 1996. We are both enthusiastic about the Historic Core Zone concept which was initiated by the Forum and is now being taken forward in a practical way by the Borough Council. This work provides the basis for a strong relationship between the Bury Society and the Borough Council during the next twenty five years.

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