Council firm bought Toys R Us to save town centre M&S in Ipswich

The former Toys R Us building has been bought by Ipswich Borough Assets. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The former Toys R Us building has been bought by Ipswich Borough Assets. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Ipswich council’s property investment company paid out a seven-figure sum for the former Toys R Us store on the Interchange Retail Park at Copdock Mill to prevent it from falling into the hands of Marks and Spencer, we can reveal today.

There were renewed fears that the retail giant could make a fresh attempt to buy the store after its attempts to purchase it fell down last year because of a covenant on the land which prevents a food store opening in competition with Tesco.

Marks and Spencer are understood to be looking for a site in west Ipswich for a new food store like that at Martlesham Heath – and there are fears that could be the death-knell for the company’s store in Ipswich town centre.

Last year they made enquiries but did not follow them through because of the covenant. However officials at the borough were worried that they were planning another bid with an offer to buy-out the covenant from Tesco. Because the retail park is outside the borough, the final planning decision on any change there would be decided by Babergh councillors, not those from Ipswich.

Therefore Ipswich Borough Assets (IBA) which is owned by the council bought the former Toys R Us building and is now looking for a new use that will not be in conflict with town centre retailers.

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Ironically IBA already has Marks and Spencer as a tenant – it owns Beardmore Park at Martlesham Heath – and its main purpose remains providing the council with investment income to supplement council tax and business rates.

The chief executive of Ipswich Central welcomed the news that IBA had bought the Toys R Us site. Paul Clement said: “It does look as if this is a deal that is putting the interests of the town centre first and that has to be good news for businesses operating here.”

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Talks have already begun between IBA and potential tenants for the site – and it is expected that the existing building may be split into smaller units rather than having one huge retail warehouse on the site.

That could open the way for some retail alongside other uses – a health and fitness centre has been suggested – but there would be conditions attached to ensure that no new uses threatened the viability of town centre businesses.