Borough publishes its blueprint for next stage of Ipswich development
- Credit: Archant
The first stage towards spending a further £3m on improving Ipswich town centre is likely to be signalled by councillors next week.
And that is just the start of a process that could see the entire town centre refreshed over the next decade.
The borough’s executive is expected to give the go-ahead for a public consultation exercise on a new “Public Realm Strategy” to improve the town centre and Waterfront area – to make it more attractive and encourage more businesses to move to the area.
It is expected to take many years for the entire vision to be realised – but the first elements could be completed within three years.
These include improving Arras Square by replacing the paving and removing the trees to the north of St Stephen’s church which have helped undermine the existing groundwork. The yew trees to the south of the church would also be trimmed to improve light in the area.
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It wants to extend the paving from the Cornhill down Princes Street to Giles Circus and improve the bottom of Lloyds Avenue. The council hopes to persuade Debenhams to re-open entrances on to Lloyds Avenue and proposes installing “catenary lighting” across the top to encourage outdoor cafes. This is not likely to happen before 2021/22.
Also in the three-year plan is improving Major’s Corner outside the Regent Theatre, linking the old Odeon cinema (which is being converted into a church) with other facilities in the area including the new school being created in the former Co-op department store.
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And the council wants to improve the area of Princes Street between the railway station and the fire station – this will get new signs and street furniture although it is not likely to be substantially re-paved.
In the longer term there are ambitions to improve areas around the Waterfront, especially the Stoke Bridge approach, by redeveloping buildings in the area that are now owned by the borough council.
Another proposal in that part of the town is to landscape the wasteland between Star Lane and Key Street next to St Peter’s Church.
There is a long-term ambition to redevelop this site for commercial or residential use and that could still happen, but in the meantime the council wants it to be a more attractive open area.
Borough looks to make improvements to the entrances to Ipswich
Transforming Arras Square and Major’s Corner are the first two projects on the borough’s wishlist – and councillors hope work there will start in the near future.
Carole Jones is portfolio holder for planning at Grafton House and said the two projects should help to improve what have become two dark and messy entrances to the town centre.
In Arras Square the council is keen to open up the area and create a more “cafe-style” area following the redevelopment of the Buttermarket Centre and the opening of new restaurants and cafes with patio tables.
It also hopes that by improving the open space, it will become easier to find a tenant to move into the former BHS restaurant and revive the area.
It plans to remove the trees to the north of the church, the roots of which are pushing up much of the paving laid in the 1990s, and to cut back the historic yew trees to the south of the church which create a canopy that makes the area dark – and a haven for street drinkers – as well as providing a home for hundreds of birds which can make the seats underneath very dirty.
Ms Jones said: “It’s all a bit dark and unwelcoming really – which is a shame because you’ve got the Buttermarket Centre there which is really vibrant in good weather.
“We want to improve the whole of Arras Square so it can become a great place to meet and eat outside – and to encourage people to want to move into the old BHS, especially that conservatory restaurant on to the square.”
She also hopes to improve Major’s Corner to coincide with the opening of the former Odeon cinema as a new venue for the Hope Church which is planned for next year.
Among the proposals are enhancing the front of house and toilets at the Regent which is the largest theatre in the region.
The work would also come at the same time as the former Co-op Department store opposite the theatre is due to be converted into a new primary free school for children living in or near Ipswich town centre.
Ms Jones said: “Major’s Corner is a bit of a mess really, and it is really important as a gateway into the town centre, it’s one of the first places many people see.
“We want to make it a much more attractive way into the town – tidying up the paving and making it better for people going to the theatre.”
What next for the development of Ipswich town centre strategy?
The Public Realm Strategy document is an 85-page appendix to the borough’s Local Plan commissioned from planning consultants Steer Davies Gleave.
The document is to be discussed by Ipswich Council’s executive committee on Tuesday and officers are recommending that it is opened to public consultation for a six-week period early in the new year.
At the same time the council will be consulting on using some of the £3m allocated to its capital programme for the work over the next three years.
The council plans to use money allocated to the town by the national coastal communities fund which made the grant to try to realise the ambition that Ipswich should be East Anglia’s premier waterfront town.
If the results of the consultation are positive, work on the first projects could start as early as next year – with further improvements following.
Further improvements near Ipswich Cornhill will have to wait
Ipswich council wants to extend the improvements to the town’s Cornhill, laying new paving along the top section of Princes Street and at the bottom of Lloyd’s Avenue.
While it hopes to complete these by 2022, it will not the first phase of new work because councillors want to avoid causing any further disruption to the market which is becoming established in its new position between the Town Hall and the Old Post Office.
It also wants to hold talks with Debenhams to try to persuade the store to re-open its doors on to Lloyd’s Avenue – the bottom of which it hopes to turn into a paved area with suspended lights that could become a centre for street cafes.
It accepts that these ambitions mean that work would not be able to start until 2021 at the earliest – but if it was carried out it could transform the area next to the archway at the bottom of Lloyd’s Avenue.