An office block at Ipswich Hospital constructed as a temporary response to the pandemic has been given the go-ahead to remain for seven years.

Ipswich Borough Council’s planning committee unanimously approved keeping Alton Block, where staff provide non-patient-facing services.

The office block is still needed due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and increasing demand for treatment, according to the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust (ESNEFT).

Paul Fenton, director of estates and facilities at ESNEFT, said: “We provided a rapid response to the pandemic through critical healthcare infrastructure.

“Alton Block enabled the relocation of clinical support services outside the central clinical zone in the hospital, to increase floor space in a coronavirus-secure manner.

“The pandemic and the unprecedented increase in the hospital’s activity since continues to place pressure on Ipswich Hospital.

“There is therefore a requirement for this building to be retained beyond the end of the temporary consent period.

“Its purpose will be to continue to assist in preventing, reducing and mitigating the coronavirus and provide flexibility to adapt rapidly to change in the event of future public health crises.”

The building was constructed in 2021 under emergency development rights related to the pandemic.

Councillor Carole Jones said: “I think we will all be pleased to support this, particularly at a time when the NHS is hard-pressed. The hospital clearly needs the building.”

In response to a question by councillors about why the application is for temporary seven-year permission if the need is expected to remain for a long time, Mr Fenton explained this is because the block is portable – and it is standard practice to reassess these kinds of buildings to ensure they are still appropriate.

A loss of 54 visitor parking spaces is created by the building but a survey showed consistent capacity for visitor parking on-site remains – with approximately 85 spare spots at peak times.

The only comment by an Ipswich resident on the application was one expressing fear the block could be used for other purposes.

Officers responded in the report brought to the planning committee: “Should the building be used for alternative purposes outside of what is approved, the operations may be subject to planning enforcement investigation.”