Ipswich: How the face of the town could have changed if overspill plans had been developed

You’re sitting in your 40-year old home in the Belstead urban district that was part of the huge expansion of Ipswich that saw the town double in size between 1968 and 1980.

The 280,000 people who live in Greater Ipswich enjoy being part of one of Britain’s bustling new cities – linked to the rest of the country by the M12 and M45 motorways, as well as the fast electrified railway.

A few of the older people can remember when Bramford, Sproughton, Washbrook, Belstead and Wherstead were small villages with their own identity – but they were long ago swallowed up by the new communities.

If you fancy a trip to the coast, you drive down the M45 to Felixstowe. If you prefer to visit Harwich or Dovercourt, turn right at the Shotley junction and go over the Stour rather than the Orwell Bridge.

That was the vision for the future of the Greater Ipswich area that was published by the government’s Department of the Environment in September 1966.

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Huge new communities would be built to the west and south of Ipswich – the Bramford and Belstead centres.

Each would have had populations of between 50,000 and 60,000 – each would have had a population 15 times that proposed for the northern fringe.

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There was not, however, any proposal for expansion on the same scale to the east of the town.

The area that is now Grange Farm at Kesgrave and Martlesham Heath was designated for “regional recreation.”

The proposals were drawn up at a time when the government was trying to encourage people to move out of the capital to move to new towns and cities.

The first phase of new towns was rapidly being built – Welwyn Garden City, Letchworth, Harlow.

Then historic cities that were ripe for expansion were identified – Peterborough was designated a new town at the time the Ipswich proposals were drawn up and saw its population go up by about 50 per cent between 1971 and 1991.

The final phase in this development of “overspill” communities was the creation of the new city of Milton Keynes, the creation of which started in 1967 and now has a population of nearly 250,000.

Ipswich would not have expanded in isolation. New major roads would have been built – an M12 to London and an M45 to the midlands.

They would have by-passed, not replaced, the existing trunk roads which would have remained open serving local communities.

The government of the 1960s also foresaw significant expansion of other communities on these major routes.

Needham Market would have seen its population increase by about 20,000, Stowmarket would have seen a 35,000 increase, and Haughley would have become a new town with a population of between 40,000 and 50,000.

The M45 is particularly interesting – it would have run significantly south of where the Ipswich by-pass was eventually built.

It would have run down the Shotley peninsula linking into a “T-junction” with crossings of both the Stour and Orwell – if the road had been built a road trip from Felixstowe to Harwich would have taken about five minutes.

The population of Ipswich at the time the report was prepared was 123,000. The report anticipated that by 2000 the town would have had a population of between 245,000 and 270,00 – more than doubling its size.

In the event the population of Ipswich in last year’s census was 138,000. The population of the Ipswich “urban area” inside the A14/A12 box is about 155,000.

By contrast the population of Peterborough – which did become a New Town – went up from 105,000 in 1971 to 185,000 last year.

n Would the government’s proposals have been good? Or is it better that Ipswich has grown more modestly? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail starletters@archant.co.uk

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