Could 4,000 new homes transform Ipswich town centre?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:32 17 February 2020
Thousands of new homes need to be created in the heart of Ipswich if the town is to lose its unenviable position at the bottom of the national league table for city growth.
That's the view of Ipswich Central which is hoping to attract new developers to help create at least 4,000 new homes in the town centre - twice the original number it had proposed.
Their initiative comes after the publication of the latest Centre For Cities Annual Outlook report looking at the prospects for the 63 largest cities and towns across the UK.
This paints a very mixed picture of Ipswich.
Between 2017 and 2018 just 140 new homes were completed in the borough - the smallest number of any of the 63 cities. That represented just 0.2% of the housing stock, again the smallest figure in the country - on average cities saw the numbers of houses grow by 0.9%.
Over the same period the average price of homes in Ipswich went up by 8.3%, the third highest percentage rise in the country. The national average was 0.5%.
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter said it was necessary to attract more people to live in the town centre - and that his group needed to engage with local and national property developers to see more homes developed.
He said: "Compared to other similar towns and cities there is still really not that many people living in the heart of the town, and there are not really the number of high-quality town centre homes that we would like to see.
"That is changing down at the Waterfront, but we need to see this change in the town centre as well."
Much of the attention was focussed on developing new flats on top of shops, cafes, and offices - but Mr Baxter said it was important to see new townhouses and ground-floor accommodation created.
"We want to see it made easier for empty shops on the edge of the town centre to be turned into homes or given other uses - the kind of community facilities you need.
You may also want to watch:
"We are in a sense turning full circle - in the last century people moved out of the town centre to the estates and came in to shop, to work and for other reasons. Now there is not so much need to come into the town and we need people living here to keep it a lively place."
He is practising what he preaches - Mr Baxter and his wife are moving to a flat on the Waterfront: "There is a real attraction to living in the town centre, where you have the choice of restaurants, leisure and entertainment venues within walking distance."
While the housing figures might not look good for Ipswich, other indicators in the survey are better.
Ipswich residents create less CO2 than those in any other city in Britain - an average of three tonnes per person in 2017 compared with 12 tonnes by Middlesbrough residents and 22 tonnes by those living in Swansea. The national average is 5.3 tonnes per person.
And Ipswich is one of the best-connected cities in the country. It is in the top ten for ultrafast broadband with 91.7% of homes having access to broadband speeds of more than 100Mbps.
There are outstanding planning applications for major new housing developments in or near the town centre.
Planning permission has been granted for the development of a new residential area between Grafton Way and the River Orwell from Princes Street to Stoke Bridge.
And the former Birketts offices in Museum Street are to become homes again - as they were before they became the heart of the legal firm in the early Victorian era.
But there are still many more sites waiting to be developed at the entrance to the Waterfront.
Ipswich Councillor Colin Kreidewolf, who is responsible for economic development in the borough, said the lack of development in Ipswich was largely the result of the economic climate over the last decade.
He said the fact that property prices were rising may encourage more developers to look at building in the town: "There has been an issue for some time with the cost of building new homes going up faster than the value of new homes which makes it difficult for developers to maintain their profit level.
"We are building more council homes across the town and there are new private homes being built in the town centre - the town centre is developing and we are hoping to see many more people living in the heart of Ipswich in the years to come."