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Cornhill craft market sucks the life out of the new heart of central Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 05:30 20 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:01 20 December 2018

The Christmas Craft Market dominates Ipswich Cornhill and obscures the town's Christmas tree Picture: ARCHANT

The Christmas Craft Market dominates Ipswich Cornhill and obscures the town's Christmas tree Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

As regular readers of this column will know, I'm fairly enthusiastic about the revamp of Ipswich's Cornhill - I think it's opened up the town centre and made this area of Ipswich a much better focal point for the town.

But this Christmas much of the good work has been totally undone by one of the most ridiculous decisions anyone has made about the town centre.

Whoever thought it would be good to put a giant tent on the Cornhill, albeit festooned with tinsel, frankly needs to really take a long hard look at the decision – it has sucked the life out of the place within weeks of it being opened.

When we heard that a craft market was coming to the Cornhill, I don’t think anyone expected it to be in a giant white tent like this – people expected attractive individual stalls that shoppers could look at while meeting friends or listening to Christmas choirs on the Cornhill.

I don’t really blame the craft fair’s managers – Eden Crafts – for the huge tent. They clearly knew what they were doing and must have told Ipswich Council what they had planned when the booking was made.

And neither do I have a gripe with the individual stallholders. There wasn’t anything there that appealed to me but they clearly were doing a roaring trade so they were clearly meeting a demand among Christmas shoppers.

Also I don’t completely agree with other traders in the town worried about the competition – a well-run craft fair should bring new people into town who may well spend money in local shops as well as at the market.

For that reason I wouldn’t object to seeing a market like this in the future – but not on the Cornhill. How about the Cromwell Square car park? That way shoppers could also visit the specialist stores in The Saints on its doorstep.

But coming back to the Cornhill. What that needed in the run-up to Christmas was individual stalls – some selling crafts, some selling festive fare and some selling hot chestnuts, gluwein, hot chocolate etc – and for there still to be room for people to circulate.

One of the most irritating things about the giant tent is that we’ve got the best and biggest Christmas Tree I’ve ever seen on the Cornhill (and I’ve seen a few) but the view of it is obscured by this hideous edifice!

Before the Cornhill reopened I said it must be put to good use when it did come back to life – and that the borough should resist the temptation just to accept the first offer that came in to add a bit of money to their kitty.

I fear that is precisely what has happened here – and I hope that they will have learned their lesson from what has happened. I suspect Eden Crafts and the stallholders will have felt the event is a success – but I sincerely hope the officials at the borough will see beyond their commercial interests and look at the overall effect on the town centre.

If places like Ipswich are to flourish – or even survive – in the future, they have to be able to offer more than just places to spend money, There have to be attractive places to meet and socialise. They recognised that in carrying out the work on the Cornhill. They appear to have forgotten it with this poor decision to bring in the big tent.

So what should go on to the Cornhill? Something smaller in scale and more suited to fitting in with its other uses.

On Sunday, fancying a nice day out in fine weather, we went out to Lavenham to visit the town and to see what we heard was a good Farmers’ Market in the Village Hall.

We were surprised with the quality and variety of what was on sale there and ended up buying more than we expected as Christmas treats. Something like that on the Cornhill for one day in the run-up to Christmas would be brilliant and I’m sure it would attract visitors.

There are more events being planned on the Cornhill in Ipswich during 2019. I sincerely hope that officials and councillors at the borough will have looked and taken notice of the effect of this year’s Christmas Craft Market and will rule out any repetition of this kind of event in the future.

The damage to the Cornhill from this big tent will not be long-lasting, but it has prevented the new heart of the town becoming a real focal point for Suffolk people in the run-up to Christmas 2018.

When the sun comes out in the spring and the fountains are dancing we will have forgotten what happened in our town centre in the festive season – I hope borough officials remember when planning Christmas 2019.

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