Ipswich retail 'in decline', warns town centre leader
PUBLISHED: 05:30 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 08:13 12 February 2019
Ipswich needs to fundamentally transform its town centre because the retail sector is “in decline”, the leader of a group representing shops and businesses has warned.
Shop closures have been common in the town in recent years, despite increased investment in both the Cornhill and Buttermarket.
The recent news of Pret-A-Manger’s decision to pull out of its proposed Grimwades outlet also raised questions over the town centre’s health, with other chains such as BHS and tReds forced to close their Ipswich branches over the years.
Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central - the business improvement district (BID) representing firms in the area - said: “What’s happening in Ipswich is happening to every town centre in the UK.”
But he believes the tendency for more people to buy online means shops and restaurants will not solve the problem.
Instead, he said Ipswich needs to return to what it was like 100 years ago - where services such as schools, dentists and GP surgeries gave people a reason to go into the town centre.
“Retail is in decline,” Mr Clement said.
“What’s happening isn’t an economic downturn that will go back up - it will never rebound the way it has historically.
“Ipswich - and other towns - must accept that the future of a town’s centre isn’t about retail. Food and drink is declining even faster than retail, so more coffee shops is not the answer.
“We need to look back to the town centres of old - 100 years ago - when there were schools, hospitals, dentists and houses on our high streets.
“People went to town to live their lives, socialising was the priority and retail was a secondary.
“We need to fundamentally rethink and remodel, accept, embrace and accelerate the pace of change. People will come into town centres if they have a need to visit them.”
Alice Eves, manager of stationery shop Ohh Deer on Thoroughfare, said: “As a small business, we’re all too aware that it can be difficult competing against larger businesses.
“However, we do get to see the undying amount of effort that local businesses put into their shops and how they support each other. I don’t think that community drive will die out any time soon.
“With regards to taking steps back into the previous century, when consumer demand is so high, people want things in their hands - and if they could get it in their hands today, now, from a local shop, then what company wouldn’t want to cash in on that?”