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By Paul Geater
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
IT is more than 30 years since the dream of reinventing Ipswich’s Wet Dock as the Waterfront was ignited at the Maritime Ipswich festival in 1982.
SENIOR borough councillor Peter Gardiner was at the heart of decision-making when the plans for the Waterfront were being drawn up in the 1980s, and became council leader in the 1990s.
There were critical points in the development but, he said, the recession of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had delayed the work.
Original plans to build flats on what became the Bellway Homes site stalled when the economy collapsed – and that also prevented the development of the former Eastern Counties’ Farmers site. Eventually this became the site of the main UCS building – so the delay probably had a beneficial effect on the eventual development of the Waterfront.
Mr Gardiner remembers: “We went to Bristol and Hartlepool and looked at what was happening at Lincoln, which all helped us to draw up our plans.
“But to some extent we had to be guided by what developers saw as the future of the area.”
The deal to get Felaw Maltings restored and converted into a business centre was crucial – that was always at the heart of the 1980s masterplan.
And the Bellway flats showed how the Waterfront area could become a popular residential area.
Mr Gardiner felt that if there was a flaw with the development it was the over-reliance on building new flats – for which the demand did not exist.
That has been at the centre of the financial crisis which has left both The Mill and Regatta Quay developments incomplete.
Any development of the Island site was still many years away – but any major scheme like this had to be allowed to run at its own pace.
Paul Geater looks at the vision from the early 1980s – and how it turned into the Waterfront of the 21st Century. Back in 1982, Ipswich held its first Maritime Festival.
At the time the Wet Dock was still a largely industrial area – although the writing was already on the wall for the businesses that formed surrounded it.
Commercial ships were getting larger and fewer were able to into the Wet Dock to reach factories such as Cranfields Mill or Paul’s Maltings.
Maritime Ipswich was always designed to showcase the possibilities of developing the area for other commercial, housing and leisure uses – following on from the example of the redevelopment of the London Docklands which was gathering momentum, as was redevelopment of other dockside areas in places such as Bristol, Gloucester, Hull, and Hartlepool.
A masterplan was drawn up for the redevelopment of the Wet Dock – and a third of a century on it is interesting to see how much of this vision has, or has not, been achieved.
Part of the vision put forward in 1982 has come about, albeit in a slightly different form to that envisaged at the time.
Orwell Quay was always seen as a having the potential for housing development.
The vision at the time foresaw low-density housing there, but we have ended up with a mixed development of houses and flats.
At that stage there was little attention paid to Paul’s Maltings or Cranfield’s Mill which were still operating – the prospect of major redevelopment there seemed a very long way off.
Another major development that was not expected during the 1980s was the establishment of a university. UCS is now the cornerstone of the entire Waterfront development.
However, one element that has not developed as expected in the 1980s is the Island site.
This was originally seen as a major leisure-based area, and its redevelopment would be the first stage in the rebirth of the Waterfront.
However, apart from the establishment of the Ipswich Haven Marina, it has remained an essentially industrial area – with the Fairline Boats establishing its major depot on the site.
In the long term there are still hopes of building homes and leisure facilities on part of the Island site – but there are difficulties in getting some services, especially water and sewerage, to such a location.