Can Ipswich town centre thrive despite the boom in out of town retailing?
- Credit: Archant
The effect that edge-of-town shopping centres have had on Ipswich town centre has been debated for decades – but has been given fresh focus with a new expansion on both sides of the town.
Beardmore Park at Martlesham Heath is being expanded further with new stores being lined up to move in.
While over the last two months, five major new tenants have moved into Anglia Retail Park on Bury Road.
The combination of these developments means that within a few months there will be at least 70 businesses trying to persuade the public to spend their money away from the town centre.
They are not all retailers – there are restaurants, coffee shops, even a trampolining centre at Anglia Retail Park – but they are all offering something away from the town centre.
At Beardmore Park, preparations are being made for new Wickes and Aldi stores nearby. They are expected to be followed by other major new stores which could move on to the site.
On the other side of town the Anglia Retail Park has been relaunched with Bounce Trampoline Centre, Go Outdoors, The Range, B&M and Smyths Toy Superstore all opening within the last few months.
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There have been concerns that all this out-of-town development will damage the heart of the town but both Ipswich Central and the borough maintains that it can thrive despite the new competition.
They say out-of-town centres are a fact of life that has to be accepted – and much of this development is outside the Ipswich council boundary anyway.
Beardmore Park and Warren Heath (Sainsburys) are both in Suffolk Coastal district, and the Interchange Retail Park (Copdock) is in Babergh.
But the other parks, including Anglia Retail Park and Ransomes and Futura Park on the east of Ipswich are within the borough.
Last year Ipswich council relaxed planning regulations which allowed the new stores to be opened at Anglia Retail Park.
Planning permission for these parks has sometimes been controversial, but Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere said out-of-town centres were a fact of life and could not be ignored.
He said: “This is an issue that is facing every town and city in the country but it is essentially a matter of choice for people whether they want to shop in the town centre or the retail park – in fact for most it is a combination of both.
“We do what we can to protect the town centre – one of the reasons we bought the former British Sugar site at Sproughton was because we understood it was being considered by a developer who wanted to turn it into a retail park and we want it to become a business park.
“But the real way to protect the town centre is to attract more shops and leisure use there. That’s what we’re seeing in Ipswich with the arrival of names like Jack Wills and Swarowski.”
Mr Ellesmere said it was not just the out-of-town centres that was putting pressure on traditional shops in the heart of Ipswich – the rise of online shopping was also a factor.
“The town centre has to look beyond retail which is why it is so good to see what has happened at the Buttermarket Centre (where a new Empire cinema and family restaurants have been developed).”
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter endorsed his comments – and said his member just had to concentrate on making the town centre as good as possible to attract new visitors.
He said: “We can’t just fight against new out-of-town retail parks. They’re a fact of life like online shopping. What we can do is to work together to make the town centre as good as it can be and I think we are achieving that.
“The town centre is about more than retailing. It’s a place where people meet, go to the cinema or theatre. They go out for a meal or meet up for a drink.
“Our job is not to stop new retail parks – it is to do all we can to make the town centre as attractive as possible.”
As well as retail parks on the edge of town, there has been some concern about retail parks just outside the town centre that have attracted retailers many feel should be in the heart of the town.
Next no longer has a store in central Ipswich – but is at the Suffolk Retail Park on London Road; while Matalan at Ranelagh Road sells clothes that might otherwise be on offer at town centre stores. Both are clearly aiming for shoppers travelling to their shops by car.