March 1 2015 Latest news:
Thursday, April 24, 2014
A multi-million pound project to revitalise a town centre is unlikely to ever happen, according to an economy boss.
The much-delayed redevelopment of Stowmarket’s Ipswich Street – which could have seen new national chain shops built – has been thrown into doubt.
Dave Benham, corporate manager for economic development and tourism at Mid Suffolk District Council, said the major project was “doable” in 2008 when the plans were first put forward. But in 2010 the council lost its bid to compulsory purchase the existing buildings in the street which needed to be bulldozed.
Mr Benham said: “Whether it will come back, I will not hold my breath. It was proposed in 2008 when it was doable but after the inquiry went down and the economy changed the circumstances were different – property value plummeted.
“I do not know; I would be pleasantly surprised if it did happen, but I’m not that optimistic.
“If it had happened when it had the chance then it would have worked and been successful. Stowmarket is the sort of place that could have supported it.”
He said the last time the council was in contact with the developer over the plans was around a year ago.
Gary Green, county councillor for Stowmarket North and Stowupland, said: “At the end of the day the markets and experts are saying that things are looking up – there’s a lot of potential to have new shops and flats above them – so it would absolutely be a missed opportunity.
“The town, despite reports, is not doing too badly – there’s not many empty shops – there’s a number of estate agents and charity shops but if you look around all towns have them.”
He said the council had told him major retailers were often interested in towns when their population exceeded 20,000 – a number Stowmarket is hovering around.
Mr Benham said the way shoppers spent money was changing and had impacted upon the number of developers keen on major projects.
Sharon Brown, town centre manager for Stowmarket Town Centre Partnership, said: “If we want growth in the town centre we need change because the structure of the town has changed very little over the last few decades but surrounding the town are huge developments like Cedars Park and Chilton Leys, which is being built.
“The housing is huge but the shops are not keeping up with it, we need more shops and more choice.”