How big can it get? Will Ipswich double in size over the next half century?
06:00 16 February 2017
Have you ever stopped to think what the long-term future holds for Ipswich and Suffolk? writes Paul Geater.
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.
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.
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?