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How big can it get? Will Ipswich double in size over the next half century?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 February 2017

Could an expanded Ipswich become a more successful retail centre?

Could an expanded Ipswich become a more successful retail centre?


Have you ever stopped to think what the long-term future holds for Ipswich and Suffolk? writes Paul Geater.

The proposed flats and hotel on the Grafton Way site for Plutus.The proposed flats and hotel on the Grafton Way site for Plutus.

I don’t mean the next 10 or 20 years – but 50 years or more into the future.

What will happen to the town? Will it still be recognisable as the community we know today or will it be totally changed and have become a different kind of city?

Predicting what will happen that far ahead is, of course, a difficult skill – but there are those who have looked at where we are today and are trying to make sense of where we are likely to go in the future.

I was speaking to someone in a senior position in the town the other day who was telling me that planning experts who were involved in drawing up the long-term future of the town estimated that about 90,000 extra homes could be built in Ipswich.

Ipswich WaterfrontIpswich Waterfront

Not all would necessarily be built within the currently borough boundaries. Tens of thousands could be built to the west of the A12 Martlesham by-pass on Foxhall Road and on land whose development opportunities were opened up by the construction of a northern by-pass.

And this potential expansion of the town will be crucial if the argument over a northern by-pass is to be won.

The government will need to be convinced that there are real economic advantages to the scheme before it commits hundreds of millions of pounds to it and the promise of decades of expansion will be crucial to any argument.

Of course many of us will not be about to see this phenomenal growth, although we should be around to see its early stages.

Could trams, like this one in Nottingham, return to the streets of Ipswich?Could trams, like this one in Nottingham, return to the streets of Ipswich?

What would an extra 90,000 homes for Ipswich mean? It would effectively be doubling the population of the current urban area – pushing it up from about 150,000 to somewhere over 300,000.

That would make Ipswich a similar size to cities like Leicester, Derby, or Coventry – it wouldn’t turn it into a megatropolis like London or even one of the country’s larger cities like Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow.

But a city with a population of 300,000 would really allow the development of the central area. We might be able to dream that some really high-end retailers and restaurants will arrive.

Supported by an immediate population like that the Waterfront could really thrive. And we might be able to imagine some serious new infrastructure investment.

Could it be that 125 years after the closure of Ipswich Corporation Tramways in 1926, a new light rail system could open in 2051? I’d love to think I’d be around to see that, it would be a great 92nd birthday present to have a ride on it!

All this expansion will change the town and for many of us those changes will not be easily understood.

Earlier this month we revealed the plans for the new homes that could be built at Grafton Way – a total of about 250 homes split into a tower block of flats and town houses with no gardens but communal green spaces.

This prompted comments about putting more cars into the town centre and wondering who would want to buy a three or four-bedroomed townhouse without its own garden.

I must admit I have some sympathy with those commenters because I could not imagine living in a house without my own garden – and I do like having access to my own car.

But not everyone who wants a comfortable home sees these issues as essential.

There are many people who have no interest in gardening, and they’re quite happy to use communal green space if it means they don’t have to mow and weed it personally!

And while the homes in Grafton Way will mostly have parking spaces, how many of their residents will actually drive to work every day?

Build comfortable, reasonably spacious townhouses within about 100 metres of the railway station and who will be immediately attracted to them? Rail commuters.

Even those who work in Ipswich are likely to want to walk to work from a town centre home. You’re not going to drive from your home in Grafton Way or the Waterfront to your office in Princes Street or in a town centre shop or restaurant.

An Ipswich the size of Leicester? Having visited that Midlands city in the last couple of years, I have to say there are far worse fates we could have – and if the future growth of Suffolk was concentrated around the existing urban centres isn’t that good for the county as a whole?


  • Ben Gummer, David Ellesmere? Nope... the problem is the BID framework. The town centre will always struggle because of the few businesses that pay the highest amounts of levy. IBC has sold out by delegating half its town centre responsibilities to a third party that taxpayers and voters have no say on. Ipswich Central management are unelected politicians. Ipswich Central is here to stay until the big businesses say "No". Why would they say no? No Mint Quarter as will hurt Sailmakers. No shopping centre at the wet dock... big concerns to Debenhams, M&S, Primark and Sailmakers. The Saints shops are puppets for CSR PR... "independent businesses of variety" (who don't pay levy) or path to waterfront of a 4-star hotel? There should have never been so many flats and ...a tourist attraction by now surely? Buttermarket restaurants will be gone in 3-5 years when the novelty worn off. Either to let units or lesser names. We cannot guarantee Empire will be able to compete with Cineworld -so that might not last either. Sailmakers are already struggling - even if they get "full occupancy" their aims of expansion on the bus station with a link to Crown Street car park will guarantee it is never fully occupied. Nothing will get better, longer term the town centre housing including waterfront flats will house benefit claimants through housing associations, refugees and witness protection under contract as a council income grant. The Northern Fringe will house others that have worked hard for their home who will be scared to go into the town centre (which will be like Barrack Corner) or waterfront and drive to Bury St Eds or Norwich to shop. The university will have an direct interest in a quarter of town centre land with Trinity College land owners and profiting through the uni. In fact, based on the lack of leadership of UOS, I would say they will simply become an affiliated uni for other universities... in which case they might have just stayed as UCS. In 50 years, Ipswich would have £1.5billion "invested" but very little to show.

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    Ipswich Entrepreneur

    Saturday, February 18, 2017

  • Others below have highlighted the structural changes to local government that can simplify and unify services in the Ipswich area. However as highlighted by other comments below it is an attitude adjustment that needs to occur. Look at the past, if you had this conversation in mid 1960s before Belstead, Stoke Park, PinewoodBrook, Foxhall Rd development opposite the Golf Pub, Ravenswood, Kesgrave, Marltesham, Docks Regeneration you must be looking at over 50 to 75,000 houses. If you had said in the mid 60s that RSJ, Compair Revell, Fisons, Cranes, Ipswich Dock, Railway Goods Yard at Halifax jct would have either disappeared or be employing greatly reduced numbers you would have said the same thing. The reality is that the demand is there, across not just the Ipswich Area but across East Anglia. Greater Ipswich could easily in the next 50yrs could see another 90,000 dwellings built that is only 1,800 houses every year ! Ipswich alone on it existing boundaries has been asked to build 750 a year which over 50yrs is 37,500 new houses ! Sort out the Rail line and Ipswich with a direct line to Liverpool St of 50mins becomes a cheap commuting location. It takes over an hour and a half to commute to the City from Brighton which a lot of people do everyday. The fact is this needs to be managed. It is not just councils, but things such as Network Rail building new or reopening old railway stations on the Woodbridge and Felixstowe Lines. It means to reduce Traffic and take buses of the road Great Ipswich needs a reliable commuter rail network. It means no piece meal developments with Suffolk Coastal, Babergh and Mid Suffolk dumping housing and development willy nillly around the edge of Ipswich. To fund this I think you need a major rethink at Central Government level. The most successful new cities built over the last 100yrs have been places such as Milton Keynes and the New Garden Cities such as Letchworth etc which were planned. It is inevitable that this development is going to happen, maybe its about time a Greater Ipswich Unitary Authority was created, which at the same time is mirrored by a Greater Ipswich Development Corporation to provide the infrastructure and overall development plan for the area independent of political parties with clear goals on green spaces, industrial development, transport and service provision. Because it is no good moaning about “Head In the Cloud” David Ellesmere when IBC has no control over its boundaries but is driven to provide over 7,500 houses over the next 10yrs by Central Government. The Northern Fringe at most is providing 5,000 so you’ve got to find space for another 2,500 houses by 2025. If not in the Town Centre where are you going to build them. Maybe on some Parks, maybe Chantry Park or Pipers Vale the sanctuary of Green that was saved rather than having a Junction from the A14 over 20yrs ago to relieve Nacton Rd and Landseer Rd. Because within Ipswichs 1835 boundaries that is all you’re going to be left with. So seize the chance say to Government this is an area ready to expand but become an area designed as whole to work like Milton Keynes or Letchworth areas that are rated by their residents as some of the nicest to live rather than a disaster of build and hope development from the private sector driven only by profit. We probably will not be around to see it but by 2075 Ipswich will be a lot different place, just as the changes since 1967 which was 50yrs ago today which as been under 50yrs of limited planning or control because of the changes to local government in 1972.

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    The Ginge

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Agree with the idea of a Unitary authority but as deeber and mike point out Ipswich is controlled by too many individuals, two councils and no cohesion . I see Ipswich continuing the same way it has since the 1970s , arguing councils , the Gummers controlling things and a local paper that ignores the majority as it snugs up to the elite few, no change at all .

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    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Excellent points IpswichBristol, but as mentioned, any sensible thinking will be hampered by the various quangos that, somehow, gained some say in these things! Geater is their mouthpiece in the local press, but they fail to see that he's regarded as somewhat of a comedy character! The boy Ben? Dr Dan, the unseen man? Clement, Baxter, just so many! Unitary Rule for Greater(no Geater!) Ipswich. Job lot of brown envelopes Noe leaving Staples!

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    Mike Derruki

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • It's all. Dry well building homes but where will all these people work? I don't see 90,000 jobs forecast for the area. Not everyone works in retail, shipping or insurance call centres, and that old sugar beet site will provide hundreds of jobs not thousands.

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    Sentinel Red

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Yes, all towns and cities grow but this council seems intent on it happening within it's town centre. It's fine for "head in the clouds" David Ellesmere to protest on our behalf when SCC close roads for several weeks and the ensuing traffic chaos that results but they still bash on with town centre development with gay abandon.

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    Chris D

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Paul, yes some of us having been giving a great deal of thought to the future of Ipswich and Suffolk, and what is needed to equip it for the 21st Century. We urgently need an accountable and ambitious structure in local government, capable of planning, managing and delivering change in a fairer and balanced way for ALL in Suffolk. We have launched a new proposal called Reform Suffolk. We propose a shared Suffolk Service Centre; reporting to three equal sized unitary districts: East Suffolk, West Suffolk and Orwell (covering Greater Ipswich & Felixstowe). This will save money, provide balanced and fair platform for Devolution, and ensure local government is local (decisions made for you by people who live here). Unitary decision making for local people, but backed up by economies of scale through a shared service centre. Let’s get people talking about greater local government for ALL in Suffolk. With the Local Government Association has issued a fresh plea for extra funds amid warnings that town halls face a £5.8bn black hole by 2020, our idea could be a blue print for similar situated counties and districts across the United Kingdom. We believe that taxpayers and voters will want to see and consider sensible counter proposals for local government, so we will be standing as independents in the County Elections in May. See orwell ahead co uk, Reform Suffolk tab for details.

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    Mark Ling

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Making silly decisions now then will have a long term affect ? Placing a school in the retail section in the old coop building that's forward thinking by Gummer ! The so called Ipswich vision group is the root problem to the towns success , its focus is entirely based on Ipswich waterfront that's it ! .....IF (and this is a big IF ) we got all the councils together in the greater Ipswich area along with MPs they might all sit down and work together to build a "greater Ipswich " for the future .... I doubt that will happen so we can continue with the mish mash of No bypass as people like yourself Mr Geater , Ben Gummer , Dr Dan etc have been against it for decades ..I see no hope for general infrastructure as houses are being dropped in everywhere regardless of the need for better roads and most important if Ipswich is to grow naturally it needs two MPs and expand to a much larger radius including the likes of Felixstowe , martlesham , kesgrave , Rushmere so it can control house builds and infrastructure to a more LOCAL level an Unitary authority ....I cannot see Ben Gummer giving up his power and his vanity projects to put Ipswich first , sorry Paul but Ipswich is in a mess because of these little vanity leaders it will grow but it won't grow naturally it will be a mish mash of houses and empty sites with extremely poor infrastructure... like it is now just a whole lot bigger !

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    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Baptist you make 3 very good points. An enlarged unitary authority is absolutely key to making sure the right infrastructure is in place to enable the growth. As it stands, it will just be a continuation of piecemeal development resulting in more chaos for our infrastructure. The Northern Bypass WILL happen one day, its just a question of when. Of course the government will expect significant growth to come off the back of this- the Norwich Distributor Road is £180m of spending but will allow for the development of 40,000 jobs and 40,000 new homes. So, we will have to expect this level of development to follow. Ipswich town centre and its retail could benefit hugely from this sort of growth. As Baptist also says, we have 2 strategic expansion opportunities, the Mint Quarter and the area from the Wolsey into town. Both could deliver a new-to-Ipswich department store led development. Our growth should include making full use of the railways we have and the creation of cycle-highways linking our suburbs to the town centre and key employment sites, proper funding and expanding our park and rides, and yes- investment in new and improved highway infrastructure too. Perhaps we could see a brand new University hospital starting to be planned now? Meaningful expansion of our University? Perhaps an Arena for the town? Ipswich could have an extremely bright future, but it needs a Unitary Authority to be able to deliver its potential. Join the campaign at orwellahead and please look at Reform Suffolk on the website

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    Thursday, February 16, 2017

  • Well, it's good to speculate! Three quick points. 1. The town is bound to grow; but will it grow in a co-ordinated way, especially if it has to spread beyond IBC boundaries? A Unitary Authority would help. 2. If a Northern Bypass is built, housing will spread to meet it and retailindustrial units will spring up at its junctions. That seems inevitable. 3. Will the town centre be big enough? I always feel, for example, that Cambridge City Centre is too small for the size that the place has become. However (as we all know) there is still spare space (the "Mint Quarter") and retail capacity.

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    Baptist Trainfan

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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