Stowmarket: ‘Phenomenal’ investment is needed as town is set for thousands of new jobs and homes

Stowmarket's Market Place

Stowmarket's Market Place - Credit: Archant

The future of a market town has been analysed by business and council chiefs as it is set for what could be momentous change.

David Blackburn, clerk for Stowmarket Town Council, speaking at the conference

David Blackburn, clerk for Stowmarket Town Council, speaking at the conference - Credit: Archant

Stowmarket is forecast for major investment – with thousands of new jobs and homes set to be built over the coming decades.

That predicted change was described in a major conference as being like a rocket taking off – with serious preparation needed if it is to go smoothly.

One area of focus was job skills. Representatives from both Stowmarket High School and West Suffolk College called on businesses to engage more with them to better influence students. But several of the companies said getting access to schools and colleges was difficult.

Lindsay Barker, a strategic director at Mid Suffolk District Council, spoke at the conference held in the town’s John Peel Centre.

She said: “There’s a big mismatch between what’s provided locally (in skills) and what’s needed. It’s like turning a tanker but I actually believe what we have in place around skills will try and turn this around if we can get it right.

“But it’s a long-term plan; not a short-term plan. The more you can get involved in skills the better.”

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Some 3,000 jobs could be created on the new 195-acre business site, Gateway 14, formerly known as Mill Lane. Around 800 homes are to be built on the new Chilton Leys estate – with hundreds more set around the town.

But one of the biggest concerns voiced was on infrastructure. David Blackburn, clerk for Stowmarket Town Council, said: “The amount of infrastructure that this town needs is phenomenal and we need to look at how we use that money to best effect.

“The proliferation of certain amenities in the town is not sustainable.”

He said there needed to be a joined-up approach to redeveloping areas of the town – with one proposal to link the John Peel Centre, which it owns, to the Market Place with a new café. Free wireless internet is also proposed for shoppers to use in the town centre.

Mr Blackburn added: “Our aspirations for the future is that the status quo is unacceptable.

“We are a growing town and people have expectations that community infrastructure will be in place for them but they need to understand that the developer contributions are not going to fulfil all our needs.

“We need to prioritise these infrastructure requirements because our wish list cannot be provided.”

He added the town needed “world-class facilities”, especially for sport.

Another issue is on the number of residents commuting out of town. Ms Barker said a 2012 survey showed more than 6,200 jobs were provided in the town, with a population of around 19,000. This compared to the Sudbury and Great Cornard area, which provided around 9,500 jobs, with a 25,000 population.