Ipswich: Renewed BID aims to create ‘sense of place’ for county town

IPSWICH Central, the delivery company behind the Ipswich town centre Business Improvement District (BID) project, last week launched its programme for the next five years. DUNCAN BRODIE spoke to Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement about the renewal of the BID for a second term and its strategy for establishing a greater sense of “place” for the town.

HAVING secured a resounding endorsement for a second term, Ipswich Centre is setting about the task of turning its vision for the town into a reality.

The first term of the Ipswich Business Improvement District (BID) project, funded by a levy on business rate payers and subject to approval by them in a ballot every five years, saw concerted efforts to make the town centre safer and cleaner, including the introduction of street rangers and dedicated cleaning teams, and a range of promotion campaigns including cheaper parking on Sundays.

However, while aiming to build on these successes, the wider objective of the second term is to transform the image of Ipswich and establish an identify for it as a “waterfront town centre”.

The renewal of the BID for a second five-year term was approved by a ballot of town centre traders last autumn. On a 68% turnout, renewal was supported by 93% of voters by number and 95% by rateable value.

This, says Paul Clement, the chief executive of BID delivery company Ipswich Central, is the best first renewal ballot result achieved by any BID in the country and means that, even had all those who failed to vote instead decided to vote “no”, the “yes” supporters would still have won a clear majority.

“We have now taken a few months to take stock of what worked well in BID1 and what we promised to do in BID2,” he says. “We have also done a lot of work around how the consumer has changed.”

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The “consumer”, in this context, means not only those to come to Ipswich to shop but also those who visit the town for other reasons, those who work or study in the town and potential investors in the town.

In the past, consumers had been expected to fit their behaviour around town centre infrastructure determined by planning policy but the internet had changed the nature of this relationship.

In the personal computer era, this had generated concerns that people would cease to visit town centres and do their shopping from home, but the development of mobile technology, giving people access to the internet on the move, presented towns with a fresh opportunity.

“We are looking to create a digital presence for Ipswich,” says Mr Clement. “We aim to develop ways in which the mobile consumer can use the town centre and get an experience they would not get elsewhere, and which is more dynamic as a result of them being in the town rather than using the internet remotely, as the might from a PC at home.”

This is also a key element within the BID2 strategy of promoting Ipswich as a “waterfront town centre”, bringing together the identities of what have often been regarded as separate areas in order to exploit the regeneration of the waterfront as a “unique selling point” for the town centre.

While the improvement of physical links between the town centre and the waterfront is an issue, says Mr Clement, the “mobile factor” can help make them work together as one and help to establish Ipswich as “a place to be”.

“The physical link is important but it about much, much more than that,” he says. “We need to focus on promoting what we have to offer as a town, including the waterfront, and not compare ourselves with Norwich and Cambridge.

“Our retail offer is important, and needs to improve, but the challenge is not just about bringing in a few retailers; it is about thinking about what will make a trip to Ipswich different and that it was we have not got our heads around in the past.

“We have to identify our points of difference and then do them really well, on a scale which differentiates Ipswich as a place from anywhere else.

“There are some big plans this year to make sure that Ipswich stays ahead of other towns, making Ipswich a town that which people want to be in,” he said.

“Ipswich Central is committing that their digital platform will be way ahead of other competing locations in the way that it gives consumers a new experience of the place.