Gallery: Felixstowe set for multi-million pound modern make-over

VISIT Felixstowe in five years’ time and it could be a very different place indeed.

After a decade of what planners called much-needed consolidation, the seaside town is bracing itself for another period of development.

The previous era had seen considerable house building – 800 properties in the Trimleys, and 1,000 on the Cavendish Park, Orwell Green and Grange Farm estates in Felixstowe, increasing the resort’s population by more than 4,000.

A new doctors’ surgery and superstore – then Safeway, now a Morrisons – completing the estate.

In the town centre, the derelict railway station had been restored and land alongside, once shunting yards, developed to create the Great Eastern Square shopping precinct and supermarket, plus the smart forecourt and new car park behind.

There had also been the construction of the new leisure centre, a modern centrepiece to the seafront replacing the old cavern of the Pier Pavilion dance and concert hall. The prom had been resurfaced, and the Cavendish Hotel was rudely bulldozed.

Since then, though, there has been little development to speak of – a new Lidl supermarket replacing the ugly bus station, and the welcome Brackenbury Sports Centre converted from the old Felixstowe College girls’ school sports hall.

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The Port of Felixstowe has expanded and employment there has increased substantially, albeit gradually, over the years.

There is now though a serious air of neglect around parts of the seafront, places looking tired and old-fashioned, and major investment has been seriously lacking for probably 20 years.

Changing politics have meant that public money, taxpayers’ hard-earned cash is no longer an option. Gone are the days when Suffolk Coastal will pay millions for a bright new development to help a community – now the council regards itself as an “enabler”, searching for other streams of funding, and supporting and encouraging others to spend their cash.

It’s a difficult world and recession has made it worse.

But now the town is looking to move forward again, though not everyone is happy with the projects taking place.

The first stage has been to create the shared space shopping centre in Hamilton Road, and the new Canopy arena on The Triangle.

In the next few years – planning permission permitting – Walton High Road could be transformed, too. The highly-controversial scheme could see fields on both sides vanish to make way for hundreds of new homes, a Tesco superstore, business units, allotments and community facilities.

Also on High Road, a new �20 million Felixstowe Academy will be built.

One the edge of town, a new �1m medical centre will emerge on the paddock at the top of Beatrice Avenue.

The seafront though will see the biggest changes – from the �25m south seafront development of homes and a maritime park at one end, to the �2.76m refurbishment of the Spa Gardens and Town Hall Gardens at the other.

In between, there could be a new multi-million pound state-of-the-art pier, with the area both sides of the leisure centre given a makeover.

In addition, �20m has been spent on the beach and sea defences, protecting the resort from flooding and erosion for the next century.

At Landguard there will be a temporary visitor centre, to be replaced in the next five years with a permanent one when the port completes the next phase of its expansion.

Other developments could come along, too. There are plans afoot to demolish the old North Sea Hotel and build on its site, and the Felixstowe Futures team is constantly looking at different ideas and seeking funding.

He may have a vested interest, but Tim Collins, a partner in Bidwells, agents for landowners Trinity College, is convinced the time has come for fresh development.

He accepts, too, that not everyone will be in favour of some of the projects being put forward – and some people will prove impossible to convince.

“We have not kept pace and now the town needs to catch up – we need to provide a modern living and working environment. The time is right for that. Change is never easy though and we can understand people’s concerns and worries and we want to work alongside them,” he said.

Mayor Mike Deacon (pictured left) is very excited about the prospect of the new pier.

“It looks very exciting and I can’t wait to see the details. It will certainly make the seafront look very different and we desperately need investment in the seafront to bring more visitors to the town and retain those who visit regularly,” he said.

Many times in the past Felixstowe has seen plans and ideas for possible projects, but at long last it seems as if some may at last become reality.

Private funding has been secured for the redevelopment of one of the resort’s oldest landmarks.

The current pier will be demolished and replaced with a seaside leisure complex sticking out further over the sea than the current arcade, with more than twice as much room for attractions and a range of new facilities on two storeys.

These will include a bowling centre, catering facilities, traditional arcade and gaming area, plus a bar and restaurant area with seaviews, continental-style ice cream parlour, and toilets.

There will also be a function suite able to seat up to 325 people, plus outside terraces, and a state-of-the-art observation tower with an entertainment experience using screens showing shipping movements to and from the Port of Felixstowe.