Plans to close the record offices in two Suffolk towns have been met with heavy criticism, with one community leader branding it a "deeply retrograde step".

Suffolk County Council is set to cut its £500,000 funding investment in the arts and culture sector and close its record offices in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft, while putting tax bills up by a maximum of 5% this spring.

The county's records are to be concentrated on The Hold in Ipswich, but the proposed closures have caused dismay in the towns that will their offices shut.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Hold, Ipswich, in 2020The Hold, Ipswich, in 2020 (Image: Archant)

Diane Hind, who represents Tollgate on West Suffolk Council, said: "I believe this is a deeply retrograde step, and unnecessary.

"West Suffolk Council has done everything it can to work with SCC to find suitable new premises for the archive, and we continue to be willing to do so.

"Their decision is purely down to a misguided attempt to save a small amount of money in the short term. It is short sighted and damaging to the heritage of our historic town."

East Anglian Daily Times: West Suffolk councillor Diane HindWest Suffolk councillor Diane Hind (Image: West Suffolk Council)

On Tuesday, a protest against the closure was held outside the Bury St Edmunds record office in Raingate Street. 

Resident Simon Harding said centralising in Ipswich could cause issues for the disabled community. 

"I use a mobility scooter, which would render me unable to visit the proposed facility in Ipswich without incurring an unacceptable level of expense," he said.

"Public transport is inadequate, time-consuming and could not meet my needs. I suspect I am not alone.

"For Suffolk County Council to even consider closing the Bury office, happy to push the disabled aside, would show appalling ignorance and lack of compassion," he added.

East Anglian Daily Times: Protestors outside the Bury St Edmunds record office on TuesdayProtestors outside the Bury St Edmunds record office on Tuesday (Image: Bury St Edmunds Society CIO)

And Martyn Taylor, chair of the Bury Society, said the group was "deeply disappointed" by the plan.

“Our historical archives and records do not belong in Ipswich, they belong in Bury St Edmunds," he said.

"We need to look after our past for the future and the Bury Society is leading a campaign against this proposal.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Residents and councillors have hit out at the plansResidents and councillors have hit out at the plans (Image: Bury St Edmunds Society CIO)

This news comes six years after Suffolk County Council announced the closure of Lowestoft Record Office and campaign group Save Our Record Office was formed.

Bob Collis, chair of the group, said: "Suffolk County Council and their archives management have been planning a unified service in one location since 2013.

"Having already completely alienated North East Suffolk by removing their archives, its now the turn of West Suffolk to feel the contempt these people have for heritage and history enthusiasts across the county.

"We now know through FOI requests and our own research that the decision to close the Lowestoft office was taken years beforehand, and the costing for the move was already in the plans submitted to the then Heritage Lottery Fund in 2017.

"The Hold has soaked up over £17million of public funds and its going to cost over £1.3m a year to run."

East Anglian Daily Times: A group protested against the closure in LowestoftA group protested against the closure in Lowestoft (Image: SORO)

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said the council is facing the most challenging budget-setting process in many years, with inflation putting significant pressure on services like SEND, school transport and children in care. 

The spokesman said £140,000 of savings will be achieved by centralising Suffolk Archives to The Hold and closing the branches in west and east Suffolk.

Bobby Bennett, cabinet member for equality and communities, said: "The current West Suffolk Archives branch in Bury St Edmunds requires significant investment in order to protect its historic records and meet modern archive standards.

"The building is constrained by its listed status, poor layout, lack of parking space and poor disabled access. Remaining at its current location would require investment of more than £5 million.

"In February 2023, Suffolk County Council committed £3.4m to relocate the West Suffolk Archives branch to the proposed Western Way development.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Bobby BennettCllr Bobby Bennett (Image: Suffolk County Council)

"Following the disappointing decision by West Suffolk Council to not proceed with the Western Way development, and in light of the current budget situation, the County Council has been left with no choice but to review its options for the delivery of Archives services in Suffolk.

“Investing in one location will help us improve access to archives through offering on the day productions and increased digital productions, and reach wider audiences through outreach and engagement activities.

"The purpose-built strongrooms at The Hold offer the best protection and care for Suffolk’s collections of national and international significance, spanning more than 900 years of Suffolk’s history."