Ipswich: Town centre in line for retail revolution

IPSWICH has missed out. Cambridge has its Grand Arcade, Bury St Edmunds the Arc, Norwich has Chapelfields – but Ipswich, Suffolk’s county town, didn’t get a new shopping centre in the last retail boom.

But a retail masterplan – due to be published in November – could change all that.

The plan, to be put forward for consultation by Ipswich Borough Council in the autumn, includes changing the face of the town centre by linking up with the Waterfront and by extending the Tower Ramparts shopping centre on to the site of the neighbouring bus station as well as building a sky link to a rebuilt multi-storey park.

It is hoped this radical new approach will attract developers and, in turn, the quality end retailers so many are calling for.

Richard Turner, property surveyor for Ipswich Borough Council and Ipswich Central, said the town has some problems it needs to overcome.

He said: “Ipswich has a very prominent long linear east-west “golden mile” which starts at St Matthew’s roundabout and runs through Westgate Street, across the Cornhill, into Tavern Street and on to Carr Street in the east.

“In terms of retail planning this is highly inefficient and we believe the town centre needs to be further developed on its North South axis which in turn would bolster the offer we can provide to potential retailers.

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“The Ipswich Central vision is for Ipswich to become a waterfront town, not simply a town with a waterfront. To do this we need to reconnect the Waterfront with the town centre, which is why we are working in conjunction with Ipswich Borough Council to achieve the masterplan.”

Ipswich currently doesn’t have enough of the type of premises that modern retailers look for. High profile names such as Superdry and Zara are looking for large steel and glass buildings with space to display their products to shoppers and diners.

Mr Turner added: “Most of what we have here is not what the market is looking for. The difficulty is finding the empty shops the retailers want.”

To improve Ipswich’s chances in this competitive market, Ipswich Borough Council is preparing to launch a retail masterplan which suggests selling and developing the Tower Ramparts bus station – currently owned by the authority – and using the site to expand the northern end of the existing Tower Ramparts shopping centre with a new 120,000 square feet extension.

Suggestions also include rebuilding the Crown Street multi-storey car park which would be linked to new shops by an elevated walkway.

Mr Turner said: “Many of the plots in the Tower Ramparts shopping centre are vacant. This is because the 25 year leases have run out and that was planned in order to give the owners the chance to remodel the centre if needed.

“The suggestion is to make the bus centre available to developers and move the bus station to a different location and expand the Tower Ramparts shopping centre.”

Further mixed residential and retail development is hoped to follow in the Ipswich Mint Quarter – an area which is as yet undeveloped.

In addition, the area currently occupied by The Evening Star is due to be transformed into a mixed-use quarter complete with courtyard space, plaza and retail and restaurant outlets alongside brand new newspaper offices.

Carole Jones, councillor with responsibility for economic development and planning at Ipswich Borough Council, said the masterplan, which is likely to include a greater number of pedestrian crossings across Star Lane, will improve accessibility to the Waterfront. The suggestions will be put forward for consultation in November.

She said: “There is a balance to be struck between providing what retailers want and preserving and retaining the character of the town.

“People tell us they like coming to shop in Ipswich because of the variety but that they would also like some higher end retailers. Ipswich is very distinctive and it is crucial we keep that, we do not want to become a clone town.

“We want the town centre to include national chain stores along with as many independent stores it can support. “We want a town centre with character and a retail sector with character. People are already very loyal to Ipswich.

“We want people to continue to support the town’s retail sector because it is our town, our shops, our jobs and our economic future.”