Impact of pandemic on Ipswich town centre outlined in report

Ipswich Town Hall

Ipswich town centre's Cornhill - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

One in five shops in Ipswich are empty, and the town lost 31 weeks of potential sales because of the impact of the pandemic, claims a new report.

The Centre for Cities analysis took a snapshot of the town and compared it to other areas.

Town centre chiefs dispute the figure over empty units, but say the report provides fresh evidence Ipswich needs to "consolidate its retail offer and attract more people to live in its central area".

The missed takings between the first lockdown and Omicron’s onset did not translate into a high number of additional shop closures in the town, the report from the Centre for Cities shows. 

The vacancy rates only increased by 1.9% in Ipswich compared to the higher increases in more prosperous town centres like Oxford where shop vacancies went up by 8.4% and in Cambridge by 3.8%.

Paul Clement

Paul Clement, Ipswich Central chief executive, has questioned the figures from the Centre for Cities. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Ipswich does have the second-highest rate of vacant city centre units empty after June 2021 in the East of England - it is on 20.9%, with Southend on 24.9%, according to the report.

Cambridge, despite the increase, is on 11.9% empty shops and Norwich is on 16.1%. 

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Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said weaker centres have seen a "pause" to their long-term decline, which might return after Covid grants have ceased. 

He added: "To help them avoid a wave of high street closures this year the Government must set out how it plans to increase peoples’ skills and pay to give them the income needed to sustain a thriving high street."

But those in charge of promoting Ipswich town centre, Ipswich Central, disagree with these figures. 

Paul Clement, Ipswich Central chief executive, said: "Ipswich needs to take this as yet more evidence that it needs to consolidate its retail offer and attract more people to live in its central area. 

“The pandemic has been devastating for the town centre and it is obvious that retail revenues, in particular, have been affected.

"The figure that stands out as obviously incorrect is that one in five shops in the town centre are clearly not vacant.

"We understand that the reason for this discrepancy is that Centre for Cities apply an area that extends way beyond our town centre.”

Sarah Barber

Sarah Barber is looking forward to Christmas. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Sarah Barber, portfolio holder for the town centre at the borough council, said: "I think its good news the vacancy rate has not increased at a high rate compared to elsewhere. 

"It's encouraging but there is still work to be done."

She also cited the news the food and drinks chain the Botanist is moving to the Cornhill and Cambridgeshire-based developers UNEX will develop the former Debenhams site.