Politicians make Ipswich a third division town

CGI of College Street

Moving traffic away from College Street would help The Waterfront to develop - but Ipswich politicians lack the courage to make important decisions like this. - Credit: Allies and Morrison/Ipswich Central

Ipswich is a town that has bags of potential to be one of the most vibrant and progressive communities in the country .

The new plans put forward in the report by Allies and Morrison commissioned by Ipswich Central show how it could be developed in a really positive way and become a great place to live and visit.

However, I have absolutely no doubt that 90-95% of these proposals will never see the light of day because politicians and business leaders totally lack the drive and ambition (not to mention money) to see them through.

Put bluntly, Ipswich lacks the civic leadership needed to make the transformational changes it needs.

Councillors are too frightened of public opinion to take the bold decisions needed over traffic around the Waterfront. 

No businesses are prepared to invest the money needed to transform the riverside between Stoke Bridge and Princes Street into the urban oasis it could be.

Riverside Park CGI

Will any developer have pockets deep enough to create a Riverside Park in Ipswich? - Credit: Allies and Morrison/Ipswich Central

And Ipswich has an MP who doesn't think it is worth fighting for city status - who doesn't have the confidence in the town to make the case for such a move in the face of a comparatively small number of residents who would rather just sit at home moaning into their Facebook pages!

The report isn't perfect - and some of its imperfections do damage its credibility.

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To suggest building a new cinema on a leisure development beside Stoke Bridge when there is a perfectly successful one as part of the popular Cardinal Park leisure area is plain daft and gives its critics something to get their teeth into.

But most of the proposals are exciting and worth pursuing - but I'm pretty sure those that would be most transformative will be shunted into the "too difficult" sidings by councillors who are more interested in the next local elections than they are in the long-term future of the town.

Time and again we've seen ambitious proposals for Ipswich sidelined because of a lack of political will to make tough decisions.

The result is now the town centre is frankly really struggling to recover from the biggest economic shock it's seen in my lifetime - and it's in real danger of losing ground on other, smaller, centres.

Politicians of all parties have ill-served Ipswich over the decades - and their record over the last 10 years has been appalling.

We had plans for a new Upper Orwell Crossing that were backed by the Cameron government and heavily promoted by former Tory MP Ben Gummer.

This would have allowed the road network around the Waterfront to be remodelled reasonably painlessly - but the plans were effectively torpedoed by Labour politicians who could not, at heart, stomach anything promoted by a political opponent and a Conservative county council that was determined to over-promise on cost and timescale and ended up under-delivering because all their sums were totally unrealistic.

It would still be possible to turn College Street into a pedestrianised area and create the Salthouse Yard - but it would cause pain for motorists and for that reason no Tory or Labour politician will be prepared to support it. 

Salthouse Yard

The proposed Salthouse Yard would be a great addition - but politicians are too frightened of the motorist lobby to back plans like this. - Credit: Allies and Morrison/Ipswich Central

It would make the Waterfront and town centre a really attractive place for visitors - but if it causes Sarky Sage or The Duke to have a meltdown on social media it's just not worth it for councillors, is it?

Public consultation sounds like a great idea - but it can be dangerous and there is no way of knowing how representative it is of real views.

Closing the small cut-through from College Street to Stoke Bridge was wholly logical and made sense - but now the county council is having the heebeegeebees about the decision because a public consultation showed that a large majority of the few hundred respondents were opposed to the plan.

When you drill down into the figures, and assuming everyone who took part was from Ipswich and only voted once (quite a leap when most people have access to multiple ways of accessing the web) you find that the vote represented 0.3% of Ipswich's population wants the road open and 0.06% wanted it to stay closed. Does anyone at Suffolk County Council really consider that a democratic mandate?

If the internet and "public consultation exercises" were the order of the day 50 years ago, what would have been the reaction if a London insurance company had come along and said they wanted to flatten part of the town centre and build a new office block that would be clad in black glass and stuck right next to one of the most historic places of worship in the town? 

It's time for Ipswich's politicians to stop hiding behind "public opinion" and show some real leadership. Or are they happy to represent a third division town to match its third division football club?