Why town centre must not be turned into a political football
- Credit: Archant
The news that Gap is closing its store in Westgate Street is a blow for Ipswich town centre – but if we end up getting an expanded and refurbished Primark store expanding into its premises many shoppers in the town will be delighted.
What saddened me about this week’s revelation about the closure was the speed with which politicians, and in particular MP Ben Gummer, were keen to turn the plight of the town centre into a political football.
To describe Ipswich town centre as being in “deep trouble” might be a good tactic to get the votes of the internet trolls who whinge and moan about anything and everything in the town – but I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful for the businesses who are working hard to make a success of life in the heart of Ipswich.
What Mr Gummer was trying to do was to blame all the ills of the town centre on the shoulders of the Labour administration at the borough.
Now, the Labour administration at Grafton House is not without blame.
Its flip-flopping over Ipswich Central’s proposal to switch the axis of the town centre from the current east/west hub to a new north/south link between the town centre and the Waterfront has been disgraceful.
Originally it had backed the proposal enthusiastically – but that support didn’t last very long once decisions about the town centre had to be made in the new local plan that is currently being drawn up.
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By promoting the former Civic Centre site as a possible retail area just because some London-based consultants said it might be a good idea is totally counter-productive.
However. to blame the Labour administration for all the problems in the town is ludicrous.
It’s particularly out of order to blame the current administration for the parking problems in the town – the fact is the borough has been left with comparatively few parking spaces in central Ipswich, and those spaces are among the cheapest in town.
Who was in power at the borough when the underground car park was sold off to private developers in 2006 – along with the surface car parks beside the former Civic Centre?
Who was in power when the Crown multi-storey car park had to be closed in 2009 because of structural problems that had built up over 35 years?
Answer to both questions, a Conservative-led coalition!
And frankly anyone who thinks the town centre is dying should have tried shopping here in the run-up to Christmas – the streets were full and shops like Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, and Sainsbury’s were very busy.
There are things that still need to be done – maybe Mr Gummer could have a word with his Conservative chums at the county council about releasing the money they have pledged to help with the refurbishment of the Cornhill.