Ipswich town centre “stabbed in back” as council’s development arm buys retail park at Martlesham, says Tory opposition
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Council’s property company has spent £23.3m to buy another retail park competing with the town centre – this time outside the borough’s boundary.
It has bought a substantial element of Beardmore Park in Martlesham Heath – including the Marks and Spencer food store.
That purchase follows its £42m purchase of the Anglia Retail Park at Bury Road in Ipswich earlier this year – the company has also bought shop units in the town centre including the Burtons store on Tavern Street.
Ipswich Borough Assets uses money borrowed by the council to buy commercial premises – including the Portman House offices of Archant, publishers of the EADT and Ipswich Star – and returns the rent income to the borough to help pay for its services.
Because the council is able to borrow money from the Public Works Loans Board at very low interest, there is a considerable difference between the interest payments and the rent paid.
With the Beardmore Park investment, the council will get a total of £2m a year from its property deals – enough to pay for the waste collection service in the town.
The chair of Ipswich Borough Assets, Labour councillor Colin Kreidewolf, defended the investment in out-of-town retail parks which are in competition with central Ipswich.
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He said: “We are investing in retail parks that are already there. We want to support the town centre – but these parks will be in competition whoever owns them.
“By having a commercial relationship, as well as a council-business relationship, with companies like Marks and Spencer I hope we will be able to deal better with any issues that might arise in the future for the town centre store.”
While Ipswich Borough Assets is a commercial company, it would take into account the impact on the town centre if a tenant which would be better in the town centre wanted to move in – a factor that a landlord from outside the area probably would not consider.
And Mr Kreidewolf said the investment income enabled the council to carry on with services like running the Regent Theatre, maintaining its parks and running leisure services which would otherwise be very difficult during a time of economic austerity when government grants to councils had been seriously cut back.
However Mr Fisher was not happy: “Personally speaking, I think this looks like a stab in the back for the town centre. There are properties we own there that are empty and not making any money like Number One Cornhill (the old Post Office building) but we are spending money on a retail park out of the town.”
He suspected the Martlesham deal was aimed at trying to ensure the borough could put pressure on M&S if there was any suggestion they might leave Ipswich town centre.
He added: “I know why they are doing this – the government has said councils should look for other sources of finance – but what does it look like putting this money into out-of-town sites when there are empty units in the town centre?”
He was also concerned that the negotiations had been apparently going on for some time without most councillors being aware of what was happening – he had heard from a contact in the town that the deal was being sewn up by knew nothing himself until Tuesday afternoon.
Anglia Retail Park set for makeover
When Ipswich Borough Assets bought Anglia Retail Park for £42m earlier this year, B&Q remained a tenant – and was itself landlord to the Bounce/Billy Beez, Go Outdoors, and The Range units which sub-let their premises from the DIY giant.
Now it has withdrawn from the park and handed over its tenants to IBA in a deal that is worth £7m extra to the council-owned property company.
Now IBA is planning to use some of that money to resurface the car park, which has many potholes, and redesign some of the traffic routes – and also may install some children’s outdoor play equipment to keep youngsters entertained while their parents shop.
The company is also hoping to be able to unveil a new tenant for the last remaining empty space on the retail park – the former B&Q garden centre at the end of the main block of retail units which has been empty since the DIY superstore pulled out of the park back in 2016.
Another 65 jobs created by internet trader at former sugar warehouse
Ipswich Borough Assets has also found a tenant for the former Billington’s Sugar Warehouse in Europa Way off Sproughton Road – bringing 65 jobs to the town.
It is being taken over by local internet trader Monumart which sells a variety of household goods, furniture and specialist items online through Amazon and Ebay.
The 10-year means that the paper value of the warehouse, which has been empty since the beginning of last year, has increased from £3.5m to £7m – giving the company a stronger balance sheet.
An earlier attempt to find a new company for the site – which is the only property that IBA has bought without a tenant being lined up – fell through earlier this year.
However the final legal papers with Monumart were cleared at the start of this week – and the company is now listing Europa House as its trading address on its web pages and the premises is expected to be in full operation early in 2019.