Poll: What should we do with the Cornhill, asks former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose

Ben Gummer MP, David Ellesmere and Paul Clement on Ipswich Cornhill, the site of a mahor new regener

Ben Gummer MP, David Ellesmere and Paul Clement on Ipswich Cornhill, the site of a mahor new regeneration scheme in the area - Credit: Archant

THE Cornhill is set to be transformed into the beating heart of the town at the end of a major competition backed by legendary retailer Sir Stuart Rose.

The former head of Marks and Spencer pulled no punches at last September’s Beacon Conference where he said of the areas around the Cornhill: “It is the most depressing place I have ever seen. Standing in the town centre with the empty shops it is a barren wasteland.”

Now the Suffolk-based retail legend has agreed to chair a partnership which will choose a design to revitalise the Cornhill.

The partnership includes the borough council, the county council, University Campus Suffolk and Business Improvement District (BID) company Ipswich Central.

The aim is to revitalise the Cornhill into a high profile central piazza for Ipswich.

The current appearance of the Cornhill was established in the 1980s when the area was paved.

Architects or urban design consultants will be asked to submit proposals for the Cornhill, including ideas for flexible space for events, an improved entrance to the Town Hall and the future of the market.

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All users of the Cornhill will be involved, including retailers, market traders, and the Ipswich Society.

The initial response from market traders that the borough has spoken to has been positive. A poll in The Star after Sir Stuart’s comments showed two thirds of our readers wanted major improvements.

The Cornhill project has been brought forward by Vision Ipswich, which was created after Ipswich Central’s recent BID renewal.

Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said: “Ipswich cannot afford to let this great chance to revive the Cornhill slip by.

“A big part of Ipswich Central’s proposition for the second BID term was to lead on the Vision for Ipswich, of which this is a major part.

“We have the opportunity now to create a contemporary and flexible space in the middle of town where shoppers, businesses, customers, staff and visitors will want to increasingly spend more time.”

Borough council leader David Ellesmere said: “It is vital that Ipswich creates an attractive and thriving Cornhill as the strong core of the town. We can then extend this strength to the rest of the town centre. I am pleased our partners have got behind this vision and back my pledge, made at the Beacon Ipswich conference, to set aside substantial funding towards this key project.”

Mr Gummer added: “If Ipswich is going to realise its full potential, we need to be ambitious about our town.

“The Cornhill is the historic centre of one of the country’s most historic towns, yet it lets us down.

“It is surrounded by magnificent buildings and should be a centre of the town’s life from morning until night.

“That is why I am pleased that the local retailers and the council have declared their intent to do something exciting with this wonderful space. All I would do is to urge them to be brave – we cannot afford timidity now.”

County council Mark Bee said: “Suffolk should be proud of its county town and having a vibrant and thriving centre that provides local people and visitors with what they want is an important part of that.

“Making the town an attractive place to visit, live and work is something we all have a vested interest in, which is why the county council is currently making significant improvements to the transport network.”

Richard Lister from UCS is Chair of the Vision Ipswich group. He said: “I hope we can be really adventurous and develop something distinctive, dramatic and high quality which will help regenerate the whole town centre.”

The Ipswich Star is currently running the I Love Ipswich campaign, highlighting the steps that are being taken to revive the town

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