A vision for reviving Ipswich Town centre

 Paul Clement in Ipswich centre

Terry Baxter, Chair of Ipswich Central. - Credit: Ipswich Central

Ipswich Central, its sister company, All About Ipswich, and its industry body, the Association of Town and City Centre Management (ATCM), recently hosted a virtual conference showcasing the ambitious Vision for Ipswich to become the UK’s first ‘Connected Town’. 

By the time that you are reading this, over 1,500 people will have watched the “Reviving Town Centres” conference. As well as local businesses and residents, the concept reached all corners of the globe including Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Experts shared insights on the impact of COVID-19 on urban centres like Ipswich and the challenges that lie ahead if the transformation laid down by the Ipswich Vision group is to be delivered. 

The chair of Ipswich Central, Terry Baxter, expressed his delight at the response. “Overall, we have had over 3.5 million people engage with the connected town concept since its launch in March,” he said. “Our speaker line-up for the conference was impressive and included Ojay McDonald from ATCM, Paul Swinney from Centre for Cities, Steve Walker from Allies & Morrison and Minnie Moll from the Design Council. They all shared their expertise on urban regeneration, design and planning and gave their views on how we can transform Ipswich to become better connected.”   

CEO of Ipswich Central and All About Ipswich, Paul Clement, who has been involved in town centre management and place-shaping since 2000, also talked in more detail about the Vision for Ipswich, how the pandemic has exacerbated the rate of change, and the importance of people becoming emotionally attached with bold plans for change.  

“Despite not being entirely ‘new’, this progression of the Vision initially put forward in 2015, presents solutions to new challenges that have been fast-tracked by the pandemic,” Mr Baxter continued. 

“These include the need to revive our town centre with less reliance upon retail whilst identifying alternative uses for land and buildings that inspire people to want to live centrally with everything they need on their doorstep. The ambition is huge, and we will need to be bold to deliver it.” 

Illustration of Ipswich Town centre

A quick glance at Ipswich central - Credit: Ipswich Central

Today, Mr Baxter laid down a challenge to the Ipswich Vision Board: “The launch of the ‘connected town’ concept has sparked huge interest and generated enormous positivity; we must now work together to respond and deliver our plan with pace. Work must start now.” 

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The other Vision Board members are Tom Hunt MP, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the University of Suffolk and the New Anglia LEP. 

A clear winner for those attending the conference was the plan to create a digital town centre infrastructure, preparing for the ‘Digital Native’ generations of Ipswich. Digital Ipswich aims to attract more people to the town centre with free public wi-fi, 5G technology and digital bookability across the town, along with a host of digital walking trails and augmented reality experiences bringing the town’s history to life. 

The conference also heard about plans to redevelop public spaces and district shopping parades. Such spaces will include Arras Square, Lloyds Avenue, Major’s corner and Norwich Road. 

As Paul Clement explained: “Success for the individual projects relies upon more people living, working and visiting Ipswich. A key aim is to work collaboratively with landlords and owners to utilise and repurpose existing spaces and floors above empty shops as well as developing vacant sites.” 

The conference also heard from local developer, John Howard, who strongly backed the Vision and committed to supporting it by building 84 new homes on a site in Lower Brook Street. 

Ojay McDonald told attendees: “I’m a fan of Ipswich’s Vision of a ‘connected town’. It is the way forward”. He later told the audience that he would struggle to count “on the fingers of both hands” towns and cities in the UK that had the boldness of Vision that Ipswich had shown. 

Finally, on behalf of the Vision partners, Terry Baxter committed that there would now be an opportunity for everyone to help create the ‘connected town’. He said: “Over the coming months, there will be an opportunity for a broader discussion, where people can have their say on the proposed plans, addressing the question ‘What would you need in a connected town centre that would encourage you to live and work locally?’.” 

Visit www.ipswichcentral.com for more information. 

The response 

“This is an opportunity to improve Ipswich; to make it more attractive to visitors and residents alike, thus bringing in more investment, and to revive the town centre by bringing Ipswich into the 21st century.”  
Martin Palman, Holland & Barrett, Ipswich 

“Over the past year we’ve all seen how important it is to be connected both virtually and in person for our health and wellbeing. The idea of creating a digital town centre for Ipswich is a marvellous initiative, which is key to establishing our place as a destination for retail, leisure and business.”  
Allan Hassell, Buttermarket Centre 

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