Gap closure and Primark extension sparks fears for Ipswich town centre from MP Ben Gummer

The Gap and Primark stores in Westgate Street, Ipswich.

The Gap and Primark stores in Westgate Street, Ipswich.

As speculation grew that clothing giant Gap is to close its Ipswich store, MP Ben Gummer warned that the town centre is in “deep trouble.”

Gap has been trading on Westgate Street for about 20 years – but members of staff have been telling customers that the store is to shut its doors at the end of the month.

They have been told that the next-door Primark store is to take over the site to double in size.

The news has also reached the borough council, which is trying to set up a meeting with Gap executives, and Mr Gummer who was prompted to issue his warning.

The MP was very concerned at the news and feared other major names might be tempted to leave.

He said: “The town centre is in deep trouble. Parts of the town centre are looking really shabby and frankly it is in danger of going backwards.

“There needs to be some really imaginative planning and the borough needs to looking at providing cheap, high-quality parking.

“I’m afraid that something needs to happen in the next few months. Otherwise people will go to the stores on the edge of the town or to places like Bury St Edmunds or Cambridge.”

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Mr Gummer’s pessimism was not shared by Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central. He was disappointed that Gap was preparing to leave the town – but felt an enlarged Primark would be good, especially if it led to a major revamp of the store.

He said: “If Primark expand and convert a larger store into its new retailing format that could turn into a real shot in the arm for Ipswich town centre.”

Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere – who will be fighting Mr Gummer in May’s general election – was not impressed by his opponent seeking to “score party political points”.

He said: “Mr Gummer should start supporting the businesses in the town centre – not running it down like this. The fact is the council does not own most of the car parks in the town, but ours are among the cheapest to attract shoppers to the town centre.”

Mr Ellesmere suggested Mr Gummer should put his efforts into ensuring the Conservative-run county council finished off Travel Ipswich satisfactorily and paid its share towards refurbishing the town centre.

Neither Gap nor Primark were able to comment on the changes to their stores at this stage.

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