Authorities in Ipswich need to look outside its boundaries

Bury town centre on market day. Abbeygate Street.

Bury town centre on market day. Abbeygate Street. - Credit: Archant

The debate about why people like Bury as a shopping centre more than Ipswich has certainly prompted a great deal of comments online, most of which have been well-argued and actually looked at the issues.

However there is one argument I’ve heard several times that I simply don’t buy.

That is the shopping centres cannot be compared because Ipswich is a much larger town than Bury St Edmunds.

Population-wise that is true. You cannot argue with the statistics that in the 2011 census Ipswich had a population of 133,400 while Bury had population of 41,100. The numbers have not changed significantly over the last four years.

However I can’t help believing the smaller population of Bury has actually benefitted the town centre in that both St Edmundsbury Council and the BID company Our Bury St Edmunds recognise that they cannot just rely on the population of the town for its business – it has to appeal to a wider population.

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By contrast, those responsible for Ipswich town centre, and in particular the two local authorities, have concentrated so much on trying to provide what those who live within the urban area (which is nearer 160,000) want that they have lost sight of how to attract visitors from further afield.

By adopting this outward-looking attitude, Bury St Edmunds has successfully attracted regular shoppers from Newmarket and Haverhill (who might otherwise have gone to Cambridge), from Diss and Thetford (who might otherwise have gone to Norwich) and from Stowmarket, Sudbury and Hadleigh(who might have come to Ipswich).

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It’s also been successful in attracting shoppers from these larger centres themselves who want to go somewhere different and who don’t want the hassle of driving on congested roads to find third-rate car parks that charge an arm and a leg.

What has Ipswich done to attract shoppers from outside the town?

The county council’s main contribution has been to close the Bury Road Park and Ride site. I know it wasn’t making money, but park and ride doesn’t tend to be a great profit-maker – it’s a loss leader for the town.

By closing Bury Road, the county was effectively saying to everyone who approaches Ipswich from the A14 to the west that they didn’t want them coming to the town. What a dreadful message!

Ipswich Borough too often appears to know all the answers to the problems of the town – and is remarkably keen on blaming the county for anything that goes wrong.

What both authorities need to do is look at how the outward-looking St Edmundsbury has put politics to one side to create a centre that people want to visit. But I’m not sure they’re prepared to listen to anyone from outside the town!

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