Ipswich: Region’s shopping battle heats up as new parking charges on the way

Julie Dyson, from Ipswich Buses,David Ellesmere, leader of the Ipswich Council, Dean Robbie, from Ip

Julie Dyson, from Ipswich Buses,David Ellesmere, leader of the Ipswich Council, Dean Robbie, from Ipswich Buses, Jackie Norbury, Manager of Marks and Spencers, Mark Kraft, from NCP, Carmelina Lesina, Cosmetics Manager at Debenhams, Paul Clement, Chief Executive from Ipswich Central and Suffolk County Councillor Graham Newman gathered in Ipswich Town Centre to launch Quids in, a scheme that starts in September offering £1 parking or bus fare into Ipswich after 3 pm. - Credit: Archant

A region-wide retail battle will be ignited today as Ipswich reveals plans to woo shoppers by cutting parking fees.

The borough council’s move aims to attract people to the town away from the likes of Colchester, Cambridge or Norwich.

Ipswich will offer unlimited parking for a flat rate of £1 in borough and two NCP car parks in the town centre after 3pm every weekday this autumn.

Bus journeys into town from within the borough will also be £1 after 3pm as part of the “Quids In” promotion.

The move comes after a bruising period for Ipswich – starting with Sir Stuart Rose’s description of the town centre as “depressing”, disruption caused by the Travel Ipswich work, and the borough council being accused of a lack of vision by a leading opposition councillor.

Last night, several Suffolk communities said that if Ipswich altered its parking charges to boost trade, then other councils may need to follow suit. But borough officials emphasise the new promotion is not aimed at pulling money out of the county’s market towns.

A spokesman said: “We are aware there are reasons for going to a large town or city that are different from shopping in one of Suffolk’s wonderful market towns – we want to attract people thinking of making a city trip.

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“Ipswich has much to offer – and now you can find that out at an even more reasonable cost. A thriving county town is good for Suffolk.”

The aim of Quids In, which starts on September 2, is to attract Suffolk shoppers who might otherwise go to other centres outside the county like Norwich, Cambridge, or Colchester.

There has also been concern that the opening of new out-of-town centres at Futura Park (Waitrose and John Lewis) and at Martlesham Heath has added to the pressure.

Business Improvement District company Ipswich Central has led the pressure for parking charges to be reduced.

The borough did reduce its parking charges last year – but most car parks in town are now run by commercial operators and the cost of parking is regularly quoted by potential visitors as a reason that they are put off coming to Ipswich.

At present the promotion is planned to run until mid-November – but if it proves successful there is likely to be pressure for it to carry on over the Christmas and sales period.

It is aimed at giving retailers a boost during what is generally a quiet time of the day and also boosting the night-time economy – especially the Regent Theatre with cheap parking in the large NCP car parks.

Andrew Rowdon, chairman of Felixstowe Chamber of Trade, said Ipswich’s drive for more business by cutting parking charges showed that other towns needed to do the same.

The chamber has already highlighted concerns in Felixstowe about the drop in late afternoon trade and has been pressing for car parks to be “free after three” to encourage mums picking up children from school to stay on in town and shop.

A decision is still awaited on the “free after three” campaign as Suffolk Coastal is carrying out a district-wide car park charges review.

Mr Rowdon said: “We are looking at two hours of free parking at a time when we don’t believe, from reports of traders, that many people are parking at the moment and we do not believe it will cause a big loss of revenue.

“I think if Ipswich is going to reduce its afternoon parking charges then Felixstowe needs to do that as well. “Shops need to see that they are getting some support from the local council and it would be shortsightedness in my view if councils did not help the traders in their towns.”

Suffolk Coastal councillor Bryan Hall, who represents Wickham Market, where traders and councillors have been calling for charges to be changed, believed having the first hour free – as happens in neighbouring Waveney – would be a good move.

He said: “I can understand why Ipswich is introducing changes and my thought is that that might hasten Suffolk Coastal to review its hour policy.

“At Wickham Market, we are tackling the issue of car parking as positively and robustly as possible but a critical part of that is seeking help and support from Suffolk Coastal and we would like to see a sense of urgency.”

Mayor of Woodbridge Patti Mulcahy said the biggest problem in the town was not parking charges, but not enough parking spaces. Suffolk Coastal kindly allowed its office car park to be used for occasional weekend events.

She said: “We will be monitoring what happens in Ipswich and must not be complacent but I don’t think our parking charges are outrageous and cannot see many people from Woodbridge going all the way into Ipswich late in the afternoon.”

In Bury the move was seen as an attempt to copy the success of the town scheme: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said one official in the town.

However Mark Cordell, of Bid for Bury, insisted that Ipswich’s move would be good for the whole county.

He said: “Our Free after Three promotion has been very successful. It will be interesting to see how this works for Ipswich.

“Towns like Ipswich and Bury need to work hard to attract visitors, but there are lots of people in the region to visit both and if Ipswich is busy that is good for the county.”