Over-ambitious development plans have been bad for future of central Ipswich

A new planning application has been submitted to transform Grafton Way in Ipswich. Picture: GREGG BR

A new planning application has been submitted to transform Grafton Way in Ipswich. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Over the last four decades I’ve seen many ambitious schemes come forward to redevelop and improve Ipswich town centre.

Some have gone ahead and flown with different degrees of success: The Buttermarket Centre, Tower Ramparts/Sailmakers, and part of the Waterfront.

However the town is also littered with over-ambitious failed plans that have blighted large parts of central Ipswich and left them either under-developed or looking like a bomb site for years or even decades.

The Mint Quarter/Cloisters development was first proposed for the Tacket Street/Cox Lane surface car parks in the early 1990s. That never happened – neither did the Crowngates proposal to link up Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.

But it’s not just the large retail proposals of the 1990s that we haven’t seen come to fruition.

Many of the proposals for the Waterfront area and the land between that and the town centre have stalled as over-ambitious developers seem to be convinced that they’re the only people able to build new hotels/flats/commercial buildings in the area and totally over-estimate the demand there may be for what they are proposing.

Which is why I’m so relieved to see the new application for the Grafton Way site beside the River Orwell on the edge of the town centre.

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This is a classic site where over-ambitious plans have delayed its redevelopment for more than a decade.

First we had the proposal for a massive Tesco superstore complete with hotel, car park, other stores and loads of homes.

Once the economic facts of life dawned on Tesco and they pulled out it all went quiet before a new pared-down proposal for homes was put forward – but still with a tower block of flats and a hotel included.

You really would have thought that developers would have got the message from the fact that we’ve been waiting a decade for The Wine Rack to be completed – and the Mill is still largely an empty shell – that the market for new high-rise apartments in Ipswich is at the moment a bit, well, flat!

And after the arrival of new hotels over the last decade and the rise of the Airbnb concept, there simply isn’t the demand for hundreds of extra bedrooms at present (except when a certain Mr Sheeran arrives in Chantry Park!).

So the new application for town houses and a couple of modest commercial premises (shops or cafés) on Grafton Way seems far, far more sensible – and it finally looks as if something may be done to sort out one of the largest eyesores in the town.

I hope the borough takes a similarly practical point of view when it comes up with plans for the large amount of land it now owns at the gateway to the Waterfront.

Yes, we want a quality development there. But most importantly we need a realistic plan that doesn’t have new tower blocks and hotels for which there is no demand!

There are still too many empty locations – like the former Burton’s site between Star Lane and Key Street and the former Paul’s site next to Salthouse Street – that have been empty for years (apart from occasional service as a “bomb site” car park) because their owners have been far too ambitious.

In the years before the financial crash a decade ago there was a proposal for “St Peter’s Port” that looked over-ambitious even in the Blair/Brown “You’ve never had it so good” years of the early noughties.

That site is still nothing but an eyesore with a decaying building held up by scaffolding next to one of the most historic sites in the town – Wolsey’s Gate.

What is needed with many of these sites is not a long-term vision for their redevelopment (in the long-term we’re all dead!) but a realistic view of how they can be improved in the short to medium-term.

It really wouldn’t take much effort or cost much – flatten them and put down a bit of turf to turn them into green spaces on a short-term basis for people to enjoy at their leisure.

I accept that developers are businessmen and women who aren’t in the habit of throwing money away – but perhaps there might be a council fund that could be set up to help make run-down areas look more attractive.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the newly-published realistic vision for Grafton Way is finally a development that can be built-out and turned into an attractive link between the railway station and the Waterfront and university area of Ipswich town centre.

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