How can Ipswich bring in the shoppers?

Its shopping centre might have an image problems at present, but there is every reason to hope that better times could be around the corner for the town .

Paul Geater

IPSWICH: Its shopping centre might have an image problems at present, but there is every reason to hope that better times could be around the corner for the town . . . if it can take advantage of the opportunities of the next few years.

For years the town has been seen as a “budget shopping” centre - with the Wilkinsons, Primarks, TJ Hughes and Poundlands of this world catering very well for those on a tight budget.

They offer much, but there is little to attract those looking for a “destination” shopping centre. There is no John Lewis or House of Fraser.

There is a very good Debenhams and an improved Marks and Spencer - but Marks in Ipswich remains significantly smaller than its stores in other nearby shopping centres.

It is sometimes difficult to escape the feeling that Ipswich is very good at catering for those living within the A12/A14 box and those from the Felixstowe area - but beyond that its appeal is strictly limited.

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What is needed from the town, from Ipswich Central and the local authorities based here, is a concerted campaign to persuade other retailers that this is the place to come.

Look at the coastal communities like Aldeburgh and Woodbridge - there is no reason why they shouldn't spend their money in John Lewis in Ipswich rather than John Lewis in Norwich which is much further away.

Ipswich should be able to attract the shoppers of Shotley away from Colchester or the spenders from Sudbury away from Cambridge.

But most of all those in Ipswich need to persuade the big retailers that this isn't some low-budget hicksville where no-one spends more than a tenner on new clothes or a fiver on a pub lunch!

The town has to make the point that money that is coming in thanks to the new investment in the Waterfront. Those with yachts in the marina and �200,000 flats on Regatta Quay want somewhere to spend their disposable income - and they don't always want to head off down the A14 or up the A140.

To do that they have to take steps to make central Ipswich a cohesive single entity.

At present the town centre, the Waterfront, and Cardinal Park are only a short walk away from each other - but they are divided from each other by busy roads and physical barriers.

Few people walk naturally from the town centre to the Waterfront - or even to Christchurch Park which is only a short distance away.

All these are elements to make Ipswich a “destination” shopping centre - but they are not exploited enough. Ipswich has developed into a centre for “hit and run” shopping where you go in, get what you want and get out again as fast as you can.

Authorities in the town believe that as Britain starts to come out of recession and major companies start looking to invest in the future, that will be the time for Ipswich to stake its case for a share of that investment.

With the right persuasive arguments and the right amount of effort from all sides, Ipswich could have a great future in the 21st century.

IPSWICH: More than 100 people from all sectors - shoppers, retailers, other businesses, and local authorities - were today due at a brainstorming session at the Town Hall to look at ways of boosting the town centre.

The meeting, organised by Ipswich Central, the management company for businesses in the town centre, will be given the chance to discuss a report that is being drawn up by specialist consultants URBED which have also helped York, Birmingham, and Stratford Upon Avon to boost their shopping centres.

Paul Clement from Ipswich Central said: “It is vital that we are able to get the views of those who use the town about how it should develop over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The two keys to the future of the town are the Civic Centre and Mint Quarter development sites.

The Civic Centre site, now owned by Turnstone investments, could become home to a new food store - Waitrose is still thought to be favourite - and other retail units.

And the Mint Quarter site, now controlled by Shearer Investments - could become home to a major new shopping development including a major new department store.

Mr Clement said: “In many ways the most important factor for the development of shopping centres is the availability of space - and Ipswich is very well placed in that respect.”