Video: 21st century vision for Ipswich could re-invigorate town centre

Tower Ramparts in Tavern Street

Tower Ramparts in Tavern Street

A new vision to transform the heart of Ipswich is today being unveiled by businesses working in the town centre – it shows how the town’s historic town centre and Christchurch Park can be linked to a thriving Waterfront and Riverside area.

For several years, retailers and planners have talked about the best way to turn Ipswich town centre around – now we are able to show the blueprint for a project that could re-invigorate Suffolk’s county town.

Business Improvement District company Ipswich Central – which represents scores of companies in the town centre – has been working with Roger Gilles of architects Barefoot and Gilles to draw up a detailed plan of how the town centre should develop over the next few years and decades.

Central to the proposal is moving from the current east-west axis of the town centre from the Regent Theatre at Major’s Corner to the Civic Drive junction with St Matthew’s Street to a north-south axis running from Christchurch Park to the Waterfront.

The Ipswich Vision blueprint published today shows how that could be achieved by concentrating retail development on a tighter town centre and encouraging the development of more leisure-based activities.

It also aims to encourage more people to live in the heart of the town, creating a genuine 24-hour culture similar to that which has arisen in other centres across Britain and Europe.

The proposal is a framework for future development, a detailed plan of how businesses would like to see the town centre develop.

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It is not a statement that any developer is going to carry out any of the work in the immediate future – certainly Ipswich Central is not going to actually call in the diggers itself.

The project aims to turn Ipswich town centre into one of the prime visitor attractions of the region, bringing in shoppers and those looking for a day out from a wide area... as well as attracting the town’s own residents who might otherwise be tempted to visit other towns or cities.

The importance of support from the business community is emphasised by Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter who says, in the introduction to the document: “This is not our plan for Ipswich – it’s your plan. Now let’s all get to work to make it happen.”

Some proposals are likely to get widespread support – like finishing the redevelopment of the Waterfront.

Others will inevitably be more controversial, like the suggestion that the market should permanently move to a new site in Queen Street.

There could still be tension with the borough council, which wants to see the former Civic Centre site redeveloped as a retail centre – while the new vision says it should be a residential area with leisure and cultural facilities including an outdoor performance space.

However, it is a vision for the town that already has widespread support among many of central Ipswich’s most important businesses.

Business committed to town centre revival

Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter, said many people had been working hard to produce the masterplan of how the town centre could be turned around.

The proposal has been endorsed by the board of Ipswich Central, representing businesses across the town centre and he hoped that the findings would be accepted by the authorities – especially the borough and county councils, which are responsible for making planning decisions that affect the town.

He said: “Our organisation, representing over 620 town centre businesses, is committed to being part of a broad partnership to help lead our town centre into a more prosperous future.

“We are ready to play a full role in delivering the Vision on behalf of our members, but we cannot do it alone.

“We do not have all the answers. What we do know is that the transformation of places involves bold decisions around a commonly agreed plan. We are starting that process for Ipswich today. By presenting these proposals to the town, we are calling upon all those who share our ambition, to unite and make this Vision a reality.”

The board of Ipswich Central is fully behind the project.

Its members are: John Dugmore, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce; Cathy Frost, LoveOne; Brendan Keaney, DanceEast; Alistair Lang, Gotelee Solicitors; Richard Lister, University Campus Suffolk; John Matthews, Ensors Chartered Accountants; Millie Moll, East of England Co-op; Alex Paul, Gough Hotels. Emma Pratt, EP Marketing; George Woodward, EWS Chartered Surveyors; and

Paul Clement, Ipswich Central Chief Executive.

Welcoming the new plan

Terry Hunt, editor of the EADT and Ipswich Star, welcomed the vision for the town, unveiled today by Ipswich Central.

He said: “For many years, Ipswich has badly needed a vision, with a clarity of purpose and a true sense of direction. Sadly, there has been a feeling of drift and, frankly, decline, as other towns and cities in the region have prospered through bold decision-making.

“Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk. A strong, economically successful Ipswich will create a more successful Suffolk. We need Suffolk to be proud of Ipswich, in the same way as Norfolk is proud of Norwich.

“Now the election is over, we must look to our political leaders – whichever party they represent – to work together in a positive way.

“It is essential that the borough council, the county council, and the town’s MPs drive the agenda for the improvement of Ipswich.

“The vision for Ipswich as produced by Ipswich Central, which represents dozens of town centre businesses, is a hugely important document. It must provide a real springboard for action and dynamic decision-making - and it must also signal an end to squabbling.

“The EADT and the Ipswich Star wholeheartedly backs the vision, and we very much look forward to other decision-makers doing the same. We must make sure that this is the beginning of the renaissance of Ipswich.’’

What next?

The vision of how the town centre can be turned around, but what happens next?

It has no legal standing – but it will have to be considered by planners at the borough council who are currently looking again at the core strategy for the town as a whole.

This strategy does vary in some respects from the borough’s plans, especially on the future of the Civic Centre site, but there is much with which they will agree.

It would be a brave local authority that rejected proposals put together by hundreds of businesses who know the importance of having a successful town centre.

It is not a dream that will all be realised this year or next year – but in 20 years’ time it could be seen as the start of the rebirth of Ipswich town centre.