Are the eyes still on the prize for the Ipswich Vision?

Connexions, the former Fisons building has helped to lead the rebirth of Princes Street.

Connexions, the former Fisons building has helped to lead the rebirth of Princes Street. - Credit: Archant

When the Ipswich Vision was launched in the Summer of 2015, we said we would produce a six-monthly report on its progress in a bit to ensure that the momentum did not slow down.

Today we publish our second look at where the town is – and how well it is working to achieving the 21 proposals set out in the original plan.

There has been some major progress with huge projects.

The conversion of the Buttermarket Centre into a leisure-led scheme is nearing completion. A number of popular restaurants have already opened in it. More will follow later this month – and the Empire Multiplex Cinema in the centre will open before Christmas.

Ipswich Council is pressing ahead with its plans to build a new multi-storey car park on Crown Street. That should be open by the second half of next year.

In the meantime new high-quality car parks have been opened near Civic Drive.

And the business neighbourhood along Princes Street between the town centre and the station has been transformed.

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The station itself is undergoing a £2m revamp that should be completed by Christmas.

Ipswich Central Chairman Terry Baxter said it was vital now that the progress seen on the Ipswich Vision over the last year should be maintained.

Last month it was revealed that there would need to be substantial changes to the proposals for the Cornhill in the heart of the town – but Mr Baxter said this could not be allowed to delay its relaunch.

“The Vision is about the town centre as a whole, but the Cornhill is the heart of the town centre and it is very important that we do not lose the momentum on that. It’s very important symbolically.”

The plan had been for the work on the Cornhill to start in the second half of next year and be completed by Christmas 2018.

Mr Baxter and his chief executive Paul Clement are both sure the current timescale for the Cornhill can still be achieved – even though significant changes need to be made to its design following the public consultation last month.

Mr Clement said: “It is vital that the Cornhill has the ‘Wow’ factor. We need to have an impressive Cornhill to attract the necessary investment for the major buildings there like Grimwades and the old Post Office building.”

Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere is pleased with the progress seen during the year since the Vision document was launched – and felt it was moving from a phase of planning to actually seeing changes on the ground.

He said: “So far the major changes have been seen along the Princes Street corridor. Starting at the station where there is a great deal of work underway, you can see all the progress there with the new offices on the Fison’s site and Archant’s new offices.

“We have had some very serious interest in the former Hollywood site and that is progressing well, and the demolition of Rileys is nearly finished – allowing the site to be redeveloped for Birketts.”

He too is optimistic about the Cornhill: “We have gone back to the architects to get significant changes, but we now know what the public want so it isn’t a case of going back to square one.

“And the money is pledged – but the indications are that the work might not take quite as long as the original plans would have meant.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who is also a member of the Vision board, felt that overall good progress had been made and the partners on the board were all working well together.

“Things like the station forecourt and the wet dock crossing are well on target and we continue to press for the other changes.”

There are some negatives over the last sixth months.

The collapse of the BHS chain across the country has left a large hole in Ipswich town centre and other stores have closed, like the 99p store in Carr Street that was re-branded Poundland and shut a few months later.

But Vision partners are hopeful that these closures will provide opportunities for other retailers to move into the town.

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