Ipswich: Town centre report comes under fire

Ipswich Central chairman Willian Coe

Ipswich Central chairman Willian Coe - Credit: Archant

A major new report on the future of Ipswich town centre has come under fire for lacking imagination – and looking back 30 years.

The borough council commissioned consultants DTZ to undertake a major report on the future of the town centre.

However the report concentrates on the existing shopping centre, running from St Matthew’s Street to Major’s Corner – and bosses at Ipswich Central feel it ignores their plans to integrate the heart of the town with the Waterfront.

The 50-page document will be discussed by the borough’s executive at its meeting next week – but it will not make any decision on whether to adopt it as council policy at this stage.

The report suggests that the priority for a new retail development in the town centre should be the Westgate Centre – on the site of the former Civic Centre, including the land occupied by the former crown court and the police station which is due to close within the next few months.

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It says the failure to get a major retail development on the Mint Quarter between Tacket Street and Carr Street should mean alternative uses should be found for that – possibly based on new residential developments.

“The Link” site in Lower Brook Street, which is proposed for development by Wrenbridge and Ipswich Star publisher Archant, should be developed, but not mainly for retail, the report says.

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It also says more effort should be put into developing unfinished areas around the Waterfront – but there is no mention of the Grafton Way site where a new Tesco had been planned, but has now gone back on the market.

Among the other findings are that the town has ample car parking for the town centre – but far too much is of poor quality. Many of the parks are on “temporary” sites before they are redeveloped.

The report says there is a problem with attracting new retailers because there is a lack of the right size of units for them – even though there are a number of empty units in the town.

And the town centre has declined in the national league table of shopping centres – it was in 50th place in 2010 and has fallen to 58th this year.

As soon as the report was published it came under fire from the organisation representing businesses working in the town centre, and Ipswich’s MP.

Ipswich Central chairman William Coe said: “The town has tried to extend its retail offer East-West for over 30 years and it has failed to do so.

“Our Vision is for a joined-up town centre incorporating the retail, leisure and business areas, alongside the newly developing Waterfront.

“Therefore, priority surely should be given to the linkage areas which emphasise a North-South axis.

“Frankly, this report takes us back 30 years and shows no creativity or acceptance of what is actually happening on the ground. We need vision and ambition in this town, not a regurgitation of old ideas.”

Mr Coe said DTZ had not spoken to Ipswich Central while the report was being prepared.

But Carole Jones, Ipswich council’s spokeswoman for economic development, said: “I’m sorry to see Ipswich Central take such a negative view.

“However, the borough council is responsible for producing the town’s formal town planning documents and so it is important that we take expert and impartial advice.

“That is what we have done here, and DTZ are nationally recognised in this field. The report is about advising the council on retail matters and not on other issues – not on how links between the heart of the town centre and the Waterfront could and should be better developed.”

A spokesman for Turnstone, the developer of the proposed Westgate Centre, said: “We have read the report and are heartened to see it recommend a concentration of investment in the Town Centre generally and more specifically at the former Civic Centre site.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer described the report as a “Lost opportunity” and said it concentrated too much on trying to revitalise areas of the town that needed to find a new use.

He said: “What is needed – and what Ipswich Central and its members recognise – is to concentrate the town centre and link it in with the Waterfront.

“I don’t know why the council spent a huge amount of money on getting a report from a company in London who just came up to look at the town when it could have found out much more by getting a report from Ipswich Central itself.

“Its members know the town and the business of the town – and would not have charged them for providing a report based on local knowledge.”

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