THE Cornhill is set to be transformed into the beating heart of the town at the end of a major competition backed by legendary retailer Sir Stuart Rose.

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The former head of Marks and Spencer pulled no punches at last September’s Beacon Conference where he said of the areas around the Cornhill: “It is the most depressing place I have ever seen. Standing in the town centre with the empty shops it is a barren wasteland.”

Now the Suffolk-based retail legend has agreed to chair a partnership which will choose a design to revitalise the Cornhill.

The partnership includes the borough council, the county council, University Campus Suffolk and Business Improvement District (BID) company Ipswich Central.

The aim is to revitalise the Cornhill into a high profile central piazza for Ipswich.

Looking for inspiration?

IPSWICH is looking at some of the great towns and cities of Britain and Europe to see how town squares can be the heart of the existence.

In Brussels the Grand Place is the meeting spot for people from all over the city – it has outdoor cafes around the edge and a large meeting area at the centre which always seems to be buzzing.

In London open areas like Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are centres of activity.

And other cities like Manchester and Birmingham have squares which are focal points for major events – but are also meeting places for people from across the cities.

A city with a well-used central area is Nottingham where the Market Square is the thriving focus of civic life.

The current appearance of the Cornhill was established in the 1980s when the area was paved.

Architects or urban design consultants will be asked to submit proposals for the Cornhill, including ideas for flexible space for events, an improved entrance to the Town Hall and the future of the market.

All users of the Cornhill will be involved, including retailers, market traders, and the Ipswich Society.

The initial response from market traders that the borough has spoken to has been positive. A poll in The Star after Sir Stuart’s comments showed two thirds of our readers wanted major improvements.

What happens next?

ADVERTS inviting architects to take part in the competition are about to be published in the Official Journal of the EU (the partners are hoping to get international interest in the bid) over the next few weeks.

Architects will have until May or June to submit schemes – at that time a shortlist will be drawn up.

During the summer details of the shortlisted schemes will be published, and the public will have an opportunity to comment.

The winning scheme is due to be selected in the autumn – and funding will then have to be found.

The borough is to earmark some capital expenditure to be spent on the project, but the cost will not be known until the winning design is selected.

At that stage the borough will be looking for funding for the scheme which could come partly through the Local Enterprise Partnership or even the EU.

Once the funding is in place, work will start – although that is unlikely to be this year.

The Cornhill project has been brought forward by Vision Ipswich, which was created after Ipswich Central’s recent BID renewal.

Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said: “Ipswich cannot afford to let this great chance to revive the Cornhill slip by.

“A big part of Ipswich Central’s proposition for the second BID term was to lead on the Vision for Ipswich, of which this is a major part.

“We have the opportunity now to create a contemporary and flexible space in the middle of town where shoppers, businesses, customers, staff and visitors will want to increasingly spend more time.”

Borough council leader David Ellesmere said: “It is vital that Ipswich creates an attractive and thriving Cornhill as the strong core of the town. We can then extend this strength to the rest of the town centre. I am pleased our partners have got behind this vision and back my pledge, made at the Beacon Ipswich conference, to set aside substantial funding towards this key project.”

Mr Gummer added: “If Ipswich is going to realise its full potential, we need to be ambitious about our town.

“The Cornhill is the historic centre of one of the country’s most historic towns, yet it lets us down.

“It is surrounded by magnificent buildings and should be a centre of the town’s life from morning until night.

“That is why I am pleased that the local retailers and the council have declared their intent to do something exciting with this wonderful space. All I would do is to urge them to be brave – we cannot afford timidity now.”

County council Mark Bee said: “Suffolk should be proud of its county town and having a vibrant and thriving centre that provides local people and visitors with what they want is an important part of that.

“Making the town an attractive place to visit, live and work is something we all have a vested interest in, which is why the county council is currently making significant improvements to the transport network.”

Richard Lister from UCS is Chair of the Vision Ipswich group. He said: “I hope we can be really adventurous and develop something distinctive, dramatic and high quality which will help regenerate the whole town centre.”

The Ipswich Star is currently running the I Love Ipswich campaign, highlighting the steps that are being taken to revive the town

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