Colchester’s new park and ride gives Ipswich (and Suffolk) food for thought

Sir Bob Russell meets with Paul Geater.

Sir Bob Russell meets with Paul Geater. - Credit: Su Anderson

A fortnight ago in my column I was discussing the importance (or not) of car parking prices in attracting visitors to a town for a shopping trip or general day out.

As an aside I mentioned I was not a great fan of Colchester as a shopping destination – a revelation that provoked a rapid and forceful reaction from the town’s former MP Sir Bob Russell.

He challenged me to visit the town again – which I did and met up with him for a very pleasant hour over a coffee.

But let me start by explaining my original put down of Colchester.

When I have visited it in the past, I’ve always felt that as a shopping centre it wasn’t that different to Ipswich – and that the traffic getting into the town centre is always bad and it’s often difficult to find an easy parking space.

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But now a new park and ride service has opened just off the A12 almost next to the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

My wife and I used this on Saturday – and I was really struck by the ease and efficiency of the service. It was a real eye-opener and at £6 for the two of us for five hours shopping and enjoying lunch the value seemed very good.

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I didn’t waste fuel with the engine running while I queued to get into the town centre. The buses were fast and comfortable – the lights turned green as we approached them.

Living in Ipswich I don’t use the park and ride here but it makes Colchester seem a much more attractive destination for those living out of town.

Those thinking of withdrawing funding for the Ipswich park and ride should reflect on that.

So what of Colchester town? I realised that while it is not better or worse than Ipswich, it is different. Without having to face the hassle of parking there, it does become an attractive place to visit.

It is especially blessed with a good number of attractive-looking independent coffee shops as well as the chains that are so well represented in every town centre these days.

Many of the shops are the same as those you find on any high street – but there are some in Colchester that are not in Ipswich (as indeed is the case the other way around). There’s no Hawkshead in Colchester but there is a Mountain Warehouse.

But for those on a visit to a town or city, it isn’t just the shops that are the attraction for many people – especially when the weather is a bit better.

And Colchester is able to compete on this score. It has the castle, and Castle Park, as well as the Firstsite art gallery (although I was advised not to mention that when I met Sir Bob).

Of course Ipswich has Christchurch Park and Mansion and the Waterfront.

But overall, we were impressed by our visit to Colchester and the opening of the Park and Ride could prove to be a game-changer so far as we are concerned when considering where to go shopping.

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