Suffolk: Showground plans a ‘positive driver’ for local economy

SUFFOLK Agricultural Association (SAA) says it wants to be “a positive driver” for the local economy after unveiling plans to sell off some of its showground land for development to help it fund a major upgrade of its site.

The organisation behind the Suffolk Show, which last year attracted around 90,000 visitors to Trinity Park, near Ipswich, said it felt it was “morally right”, in the light of the double-dip recession, to make investments and move forward.

It is hoping to shift its showground eastwards to create one of the premier showgrounds in the country.

To fund the scheme, it is preparing to submit plans to Suffolk Coastal District Council to develop an 18-acre plot to the west of the 300-acre site. It is thought this could accommodate between 150 and 200 homes.

Executive director Christopher Bushby said: “We as an association want to be a positive driver for our economy, both in social terms and in business terms. We see ourselves as having an important role, and to make it work, we have got to invest and grow. Even though we are an agricultural charity, we still need to ensure our future and those we work with’s future.

“We are not retracting as an organisation. We actually feel it’s morally right that this is the time to be making investments and moving forward, and nationally, there has been a resurgence of companies wanting to exhibit at their regional and county shows.”

The Suffolk Show, although its fortunes are very weather-dependent, has continued to go from strength to strength in the last few years and has provided an important annual showcase for local and regional products and businesses, both through stalls and sponsorship.

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At the same time, costs have soared, and it has continued to underwrite the event, some aspects of which are not commercially viable, but fit the charity’s agenda.

The impetus behind the proposals followed a workshop in September 2009 in which American Charlie Smith of Populous, a specialist in large-scale events, pointed out how layout could be improved. A group of SAA trustees under the chairmanship of Christopher Clarke started work on a ‘master plan’ to move the showground eastwards and improve the ‘flow’ so that ‘neglected’ corners of the show could enjoy more interest and traffic. If the plans go ahead, organisers hope to make the flagship livestock element of the two-day event more central and visible to showgoers.

Recent additions to the show, including Eat Street, the Equine Village, and this year, Fifth Avenue, have proved big commercial and popular successes, and organisers are hoping to replicate that in other parts of the showground.

“We want to keep improving the commercial opportunities for these businesses,” said Mr Bushby.

The Suffolk Show 2012 takes place on June 7 and 8.