The Grade II Listed Building on the waterfront dates back to 1896 but has been derelict since 2002 when it was bought by Ridley’s of Essex.
An outline planning application has been lodged with Ipswich Borough Council proposing cafes, restaurant, business start-ups, an auditorium, and a conference space, as well as other parts of the site being turned into a health club and 222 residential units.
A separate full planning application has also been submitted for a change of use from a redundant brewery to mixed commercial and residential use. Redevelopment will allegedly cost £30 million.
Mike Keen, owner of the Brewery Tap adjacent to the site, believes the plans are exciting news for the area: “The Tolly Cobbold name used to be like Adnams is now but has sadly disappeared. We're pretty much the last vestige of the Cobbold name. We've got loads of old pub signs, old bottles from Tolly. I think the landlords are genuinely interested in keeping the heritage, there's still a really old steam engine still next door in the brewery and their plans are to do a brewery museum in there.
“It's always been the arse end of the docks, ten minutes away from the bright lights of the waterfront, so it’s fantastic that something is finally going to happen.
“To me, it doesn't look like it's going to turn into one of these sites with a slight nod to the planning department to tick their boxes, it’s going to be a multi-functional space,” he said.
For some time, the stability of the building has been a growing concern for locals and planners alike. The Victorian Society placed the building on this year’s Top Ten Most Endangered list, while Save Britain’s Heritage labelled the site ‘at risk’ in June. For Keen, that puts added impetus on the success of these plans to save the building from ruin.
“Personally, I think it's a no brainer – this really is the best we could hope for. The weather is degrading [the brewery] a lot now and something needs to happen before the whole building goes,” Keen said.
“It's not going to be turned into a brewery again, the space is unworkable and it's ineffective commercially. At least this way we retain the building.”
Conservationists have warned against the loss of another brewery of special significance with the continued erosion of British brewing heritage. Dale Ingram, breweries and pubs heritage and planning consultant at Planning For Pubs Ltd, explained the magnitude of losing Tolly Cobbold:
Can it truly be argued then that a site specifically designed for brewing is irretrievably redundant? - Dale Ingram
“There are only a handful of statutorily listed breweries in the country, and just a few by brewery supremo, William Bradford. Bradford was the leading brewery architect of the late Victorian era and the first to recognise that breweries could be beautiful to look at as well as efficiently functional. Both for its rarity and for its design by Bradford, this brewery is significant,” she said.
“For the first time in a hundred years, the brewing and consumption of real ales and craft beers has risen, year-on-year since 2012. Can it truly be argued then that a site specifically designed for brewing is irretrievably redundant, especially in the face of the loss of so many other breweries in recent years?”
Mike Keen explained that discussions were ongoing about the possibility of incorporating a small microbrewery into the museum but the addition of such is crucial in the eyes of Ingram and currently remains absent from the current proposal.
“An opportunity to secure continuity of the brewing heritage on the site by installing a microbrewery as part of the scheme should not be overlooked," she said.
“But its appearance, physical arrangement and structure also should not be harmfully compromised. In heritage conservation terms, alterations should be fully reversible, enabling the site to return to its original use if required in future. This becomes more important as other breweries are lost, rather than less so.
“Tolly Cobbold invested heavily, with evident corporate pride, by commissioning William Bradford to give the brewery its present appearance. Posterity should recognise and celebrate this.”