Jobs galore as John Lewis on the way

IPSWICH: Work is to start on the town’s new John Lewis and Waitrose superstore store next month – and it could be open in time for Christmas shoppers next year.

And the decision by the borough to allow the new store to be built off Ransomes Way could ultimately lead to the creation of 1,500 new jobs for the town.

Ipswich council’s planning and development committee gave planning permission for the redevelopment of the entire former Crane works between Nacton Road and Felixstowe Road.

That will see the creation of a new John Lewis At Home/Waitrose store on part of the 17-hectare estate. The retail development will help pay for the preparation of the rest of the site where offices and factory units will be built.

The developer behind the whole scheme, Chelmsford-based Aquigen, believes that in total 1,500 jobs could be created on the site.

But before work can start, it needs to clean up what is a seriously-contaminated former foundry site. The cost of clearing the pollution is still unclear, but �5 million has been put aside for the work.

Nigel Keen, director of development for the John Lewis Partnership and Waitrose, said work should soon start.

Most Read

He said: “We hope to be on the site in three weeks’ time and we would like to have the stores open by Christmas next year.

“We are absolutely delighted with the decision today. We have wanted to have a substantial presence in Ipswich for many years and this is exactly the right development for us.

“It will be the first combined John Lewis At Home/Waitrose store in the country and from that point of view Ipswich is a pioneer town.”

Mr Keen said the store should employ about 300 people.

Planning officer Phil Sweet told the meeting that it was clear that the only way enough money could be generated for the site to be cleared was through using part for retail.

The John Lewis At Home/Waitrose unit would be the first phase to be built. That section of the site was covered by a detailed planning application, while the committee was considering an outline plan for the rest of the 17 acres.

Aquigen director Tony Chambers said there were 20 companies in detailed talks about taking units on the site. He said these could provide a further 1,200 jobs – bringing the total number of jobs there to 1,500.

Borough councillor with responsibility for planning and economic development, Carole Jones, said she was torn over the application.

“It will be good to get that derelict site brought back into use and this is a very important site for the town. I accept that the retail element is necessary to bring in the capital to get it started,” she said.

“But I am worried about the impact on the town centre.”

Opposition councillors were all in favour of the proposal. Judy Terry said the scheme was the kind of investment the town desperately needed.

The only dissenting voice among members of the committee came from Phil Smart who said the potential damage to the town centre was too great for him to support the move.

Although consultants had said the scheme as proposed would not be suitable for any sites in the town centre, he felt it should be changed to make it fit within these schemes.

OPPOSITION to the proposed John Lewis At Home/Waitrose store came from The Ipswich Society and from representatives of two proposed shopping centres in the town.

Developers of both the proposed Westgate Centre, on the site of the former Civic Centre, and the Mint Quarter, behind the former Woolworths and Co-op stores, objected to the proposals – saying that allowing the development would damage the town centre and that sites in the centre of town should be considered.

There was also an objection from the Ipswich Society.

Mike Cook, from the society, said its members believed the store should be built on the Westgate Centre to give a boost to the town centre.

Suffolk Coastal Council, a consultee because the borough boundary is next to the site, wrote to object because it was worried about the impact of the stores on Woodbridge and Felixstowe town centres – and because of fears it could damage the retail park at Martlesham Heath.

However newly-elected Liberal Democrat councillor Cathy French pointed out that there had not been any objections to the application from members of the public.

JOHN LEWIS AT HOME:

THE store will sell a wide range of John Lewis items, not including clothes.

1) Audio-visual (including radio, TV, Hi-Fi and computer goods).

2) Domestic household electrical.

3) Furniture.

4) Lighting.

5) Floor coverings and carpet.

6) furnishing fabrics, cushions and curtains.

7) bathroom accessories;

8) kitchen, cooking and dining ware;

9) beds, mattresses and bedroom furniture;

10) bedding, linen and towels;

11) clocks, pictures, and mirrors;

12) blinds and poles;

13) hardware and DIY supplies;

14) garden centre goods and furniture.

CRANE Fluid Systems opened its Nacton Road factory and foundry in Ipswich in 1919, manufacturing fluid valves for industry.

It became one of the largest factories in the town – and at one point was the largest employer in Ipswich with more than 3,000 members of staff.

A key industrial site during the Second World War, the factory features on aerial photographs taken by the Luftwaffe preparing for bombing raids.

After the war the company continued to expand and it was a major part of the town’s economy.

It remained important even as manufacturing contracted in the town.

But at the start of the 21st century it was unable to compete with manufacturers in the Far East.

In 2008 the foundry and factory at Nacton closed. Crane retains a presence in the town – its administration is based at West Road on the Ransomes Industrial Estate.

But all its products are now manufactured in China. The huge factory site is a wasteland – just waiting to be revived.

WAITROSE and John Lewis At Home will be in a single large building on the retail park.

They will be separate shops, but share a common entrance. The administration and storage areas behind them will be shared.

Waitrose is the grocery arm of the John Lewis Partnership, and all employees are partners in the business – sharing any profits.

The Waitrose superstore will be the second branch of the company to open in the town next year.

The Little Waitrose currently being carved out of the ground floor of the Corn Exchange is due to open in February.