Radical ideas shared for Ipswich town centre's future
PUBLISHED: 05:30 13 May 2019 | UPDATED: 08:56 13 May 2019
A study into the future of Ipswich town centre has been launched to look at ways of helping it thrive in the years to come.
Ipswich Borough Council's Labour leader David Ellesmere confirmed the £9,000 leisure and retail study had been launched last month, with the findings due to be published over the summer.
It proposes to look at the challenges facing the town centre firms, such as business rates, and threats from out-of-town retail parks and online shopping, and what will be needed in the future.
Mr Ellesmere said: "The state of retail is a fast-moving situation with town centre shops facing multiple challenges such as government-set business rates and competition from out-of-town and internet shopping.
"The updated retail study is needed to ensure we have a robust, and up-to-date evidence base for planning policies in the town centre that reflect current realities.
"This will look at how much retail space is required and what other uses, such as leisure or housing, may also be required to ensure that Ipswich town centre thrives in future."
It follows on from high profile closures such as BHS, and threats to other major retailers like Debenhams.
The study will help inform the local plan being drawn up for the town this year, and follows on from a joint study with Suffolk Coastal District Council carried out by WYG in 2017.
Paul Clement chief executive of Ipswich Central - an organisation working to support business in the town - said there needed to be "creative ideas" to support the high street.
"Retail remains absolutely vital, but we have got to face the reality that it will not dominate to the extent it has historically in the future. The town centre and high streets must change," he said.
The key message coming from businesses was that consumer habits had changed, which high streets nationwide have not kept up with, according to Mr Clement. He proposed a shake-up of the way the town centre was structured that would draw people into the centre.
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"I think that great retailers need to be located in the very centre of Ipswich and accelerate changes to outlying areas that will not see empty retailers replaced," he said.
He pointed to development of the old Odeon as a church and the former Co-op in Carr Street as a school as prime examples of the change needed.
"That's exactly what we need - what it means is great retailers will be located in the centre and find active users," he added.
But Ian Fisher, Conservative group leader has questioned the use of £9,000 which could have been better spent on engaging with the public for their views.
His group is proposing a multi-use arena in Portman Road to bring people in.
He said: "The state of our town centre is a crying shame and we have been left behind by our neighbours both large and small.
"We have all witnessed a steady decline and there has not seemed to be any joined up thinking as to how we can reverse this.
"I think we have missed the best opportunity to begin to put things right. The money spent on the redevelopment of the Cornhill should have been the catalyst for change but it has turned out to be a damp squib and a complete let-down.
"With £3.8million being spent IBC should have moved heaven and earth to ensure there were tenants in two of the anchor sites of the Cornhill - the old Grimwades and the old Post Office.
"It should have been something to shout about - an improved town square and a bustling, thriving area full of activity - instead we are all aware what we got.
"The Conservative vision for Ipswich includes a multi-use arena for the Portman Road area - something that would bring in visitors from afar. Once they are here we have a captive audience."