Ipswich Central backs council purchase of Martlesham retail park

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central - Credit: Archant

The chief executive of the group that represents businesses in Ipswich town centre has said that “on balance” he is happy with the borough’s investment company buying another out-of-town shopping centre.

Ipswich Borough Assets – the investment arm of Ipswich council – has bought a substantial part of Beardmore Park at Martlesham Heath, which includes the Marks and Spencer food store, for a total cost of £23.3m.

It will help to provide an annual income for the authority – the total amount that will come in to the council as a result of its commercial investments is £2m a year.

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central which represents town centre businesses and promotes it as a retail and leisure destination, said he felt the deal could be beneficial if it gave the council more say in what happened on retail parks.

Mr Clement said: “There are two, diametrically opposite, ways of looking at this. One, you can see this as the borough investing in a competitor to the town centre and undermining it in that way.

“The other view is that this will lead to the borough, through its investment company, developing closer links with retailers and hopefully able to influence them into support the town generally.”

Mr Clement said he had had discussions with councillors and officials before the deal was announced, and was satisfied that this was the intention behind the purchase – alongside providing the council with a regular income.

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He added: “This is a difficult issue to weigh up, but on balance I am prepared to accept the council’s assurances that this is a long-term deal to benefit the town.”

Opposition Conservative leader at the borough, Ian Fisher, said he was concerned about the number of investments made by IBA – and the effect on the portfolio if one or more tenants were lost.

He said that while the council was getting a return of about £2m a year, that was from a significant number of tenants.

If a relatively small number of these were lost, the income could fall significantly – leaving the council in potentially difficult financial problems.

However he accepted that over the last few years governments of all political shades had encouraged local councils to invest in property to produce an income stream.