What residents and business thinks about the future of Ipswich town centre
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Ipswich residents do want to use the town centre more after the pandemic - but there are real concerns that anti-social behaviour is putting off many potential visitors and hindering its recovery.
A major new survey by the All About Ipswich and the Ipswich Vision Partnership has highlighted what makes people want to live in the town centre - but also shows up different priorities for different groups.
The survey involved nearly 1,900 residents who were questioned online, by phone or stopped in the street. It also involved 183 businesses in the town centre.
A total of 1,256 people took part in the online survey and 138 were stopped in the street. Of this 1,394 sample size, 825 already lived in or near the town centre. Of the 569 who did not, 79 said they would like to move into the town centre if they could find an appropriate home.
The business survey highlighted the fears about anti-social behaviour - and also said that more should be done to encourage people to use car parks in central Ipswich.
These are the challenges and opportunities faced by the town centre.
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This was a major concern of businesses in the survey - and many business leaders said something firm needed to be done about it because it was putting people from visiting the town centre.
There were calls for a stronger police presence on the streets - the street rangers operated by Ipswich Central do a good job but have a large area to cover and people can feel apprehensive whether that is justified or not.
Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said he felt the town was not as unsafe as some people thought - but acknowledged that some high-profile incidents had caused concern.
He said if Ipswich Central did win another term running the town centre, increasing security would be a priority.
Public safety was also an issue raised by residents in focus groups. One person in the over-70 age group said they no longer felt safe in the town centre while another said if it was clearly made safer more people would be happy to visit.
Entertainment and hospitality:
These are clear attractions to the town centre for those in the under-40 age group - and they are also seen as the main attraction for people who are considering moving to the town centre.
The most popular form of entertainment among those who were asked in the phone survey was cinema - followed by street performances, music and dancing, visiting museums and theatre.
The entertainment offered in the town centre was ranked as the most important element when all ages are included - but it is less important for those over 70 and is knocked off the top slot by access to green amenities by those in the 41-70 age group, possibly because many may have children.
This is a clear requirement for all age groups - and the most important factor for those in the 41-70 age group.
Clearly easy access to some of the town's parks is important - Christchurch, Alexandra and Holywells Parks are all a short walk from the town centre - but so are smaller green areas ranging from recreation grounds to small floral displays in the town centre.
Linked to this theme, those aged over 40 saw improved public transport as a key requirement for the town - and many people also wanted better access for cyclists and pedestrians.
Better (and cheaper) car parks:
The business survey said there should be better parking provision, especially long-term car parks to encourage employees to return to their offices in the town centre - that would help shops by having more people in the town centre.
There were also clear messages from those who don't live in the town centre and have no wish to move into the area that nothing would get them out of their cars and that they saw cheap parking as vital for the town centre.
Mr Clement said he suspected that there would come a time when potential conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians would come to a head - and that could mean some roads in and around the town centre could need to become pedestrianised.
This is the main concern of those in the over 70 age group - and is an important feature of both the residents' surveys and business.
As well as ensuring existing stores can thrive, a key requirement was for a new food sector to emerge in the town centre and for there to be some co-ordinated "click and collect" scheme to make it easier for people to make purchases in the area.
The surveys showed there is a clear wish to see empty retail units occupied - but not necessarily by more shops. There is support for them to be converted to other uses, particularly linked to health or welfare, or converted into homes.
How will the survey be used?
The research was commissioned by Prof Dave Muller, the chair of All About Ipswich. He said: “This has been the largest consultation process on the town centre for many years.
"A combination of the high number of respondents together with the richness of the data, makes it invaluable to the future strategy.
"Overwhelmingly, people made it clear that they know improvements are needed; but they are up for change and remain committed to the town centre’s future success.”
The survey has been published just weeks after the appointment of regeneration expert Jackie Sadek as new chair of Ipswich Vision Partnership. She said: “This is a very extensive research project, way beyond what is usual for a town of our size.
"I am impressed by how aspirational the Ipswich people are. I only started on November 1 but, already, I feel that we are in a conversation with over 2,000 people who have given us a very clear instruction – be bold, be brave, but deliver."