Civic Centre faces final days

STANDING on the roof of the old civic centre on a bright clear day you can see all of Ipswich's landmark buildings.The uplifting views from the 12-floor building allow you to look directly into Portman Road stadium as well as to pick out the waterfront's famous tower cranes.

STANDING on the roof of the old civic centre on a bright clear day you can see all of Ipswich's landmark buildings.

The uplifting views from the 12-floor building allow you to look directly into Portman Road stadium as well as to pick out the waterfront's famous tower cranes.

But go inside the disused building and the impression you form is very different.

It's a dark and outdated office block, full of dull greys, browns and beiges, which was finally deserted by Ipswich Borough Council in 2006.

Now it lies empty, an unwanted relic of sixties and seventies design. But one man hopes to start all over again at the one-and-a-half acre site.

Nick Scott, director of property firm Turnstone, wants to build a multimillion pound shopping complex there.

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Turnstone bought the site, which includes the Wolsey Theatre car park, from the council for an undisclosed sum in July last year.

“It's a bit different doing something like this - but it's exciting, it was especially on the day we bought it,” Mr Scott said.

If Turnstone gets planning permission then they will bring in a contractor to demolish the tower and to cart off the hundreds of tonnes of rubble it would create.

It would mean an end for the antiquated Paternoster lift, a type of open lift that never stopped moving.

Also known as the cyclic elevator, the ski lift-like Paternoster was widely used in Europe as well as in parts of Britain in the 1900s.

It was revived briefly later in the 20th century and installed into the civic tower - along with other period pieces such as four huge green boilers, an ugly copper and stone mural and a very small amount of asbestos, which will be removed safely.

Walking through the ghostly building is a strange experience. The furniture stayed after the staff left. Desks lie empty, cupboards are unfilled and pieces of debris litter the floor.

The lights are still working, but go down into one of the basement floors, nine metres underground, and it feels a lot more enclosed.

There you pick up more of the building's past - a pungent oily smell from the old boilers and piles of old telephones and papers that didn't make it over to the council's new offices at Grafton House.

But climb up to the top - the Paternoster lift has long since stopped moving - and, panting, you see all around the town.

The scene was one enjoyed by Liz Harsant, council leader, who said

“The civic centre has been a landmark building - although not a very attractive one, in many people's eyes - for several decades.

“We are all looking forward to seeing something exciting in its place.”.

What do you want to see included in the redevelopment of the site? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

The first staff moved into the new Civic Centre in December 1970 but the tower was actually planned 20 years before.

Its current site was reserved in the development plan for the borough in 1951. Architects Vine & Vine, of London, were appointed in 1959 following a competition promoted by the council under conditions laid down by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

But in its day, the civic centre project was a huge development for Ipswich - with it came an underground spiral car park and a fountain pool and terrace.

Many old terraced homes were demolished to make way for the new buildings. Addresses such as Castle Street, Perth Street and Stirling Street are now distant memories.

Originally, civic centre was to have a canteen on the top of the building but that plan was dropped and 14 floors (two ground floors, one opening on to the new-look St Matthew's Street) were completed.

At its busiest time more than 700 staff were based there. Offices on all the floors were built around a central hub of lifts and toilets.

The first contract to be awarded in the civic centre development was for the underground spiral - still the only one of its kind in East Anglia. It cost £362,000.

The Spiral, which will remain in operation, has room for more than 300 cars. When it was constructed, nearly 60,000 tonnes of earth had to be removed.

Ipswich Police headquarters, the Crown Court, which has since moved and the Magistrates Court also formed part of the Civic Centre development.

Love it or hate it, Civic Centre was an important building in Ipswich and dominated the area. Some said the best view of the town was from its roof “because you couldn't see it!”

Council staff are now in Grafton House and the town hall.

Turnstone is in negotiations with several supermarkets to take up a major unit in the store. It has long been rumoured that Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco are interested in the site.

The revamped estate could also include restaurants, bars and other leisure facilities.

Turnstone intends to file a planning application with Ipswich Borough Council in late March.

If it successful then contractors could begin demolition the following month.

Turnstone hopes the shopping complex could be built in 2009 and 2010.