Ambitious plan to improve Ipswich's sports facilities will be worth it

An artist's impression of the new aquatics centre at Portman Road car park

An artist's impression of the new aquatics centre at Portman Road car park - Credit: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

It sometimes comes as a shock to realise Ipswich Borough Council’s sports facilities – which many people can remember being built – are now getting on for 40 years old.

Originally state of the art, they are now showing their age and struggle to keep up with the demands of modern sports users. They require increased maintenance spending every year just to keep them going.

Issues such as carbon neutrality and energy costs weren’t even considered when they were built. The biggest users of gas the council owns are our swimming pools, and they will become increasingly expensive to run as gas prices continue to soar.

So, if we are to continue to have council-run sports facilities, available for all in Ipswich, we are going to have to replace our existing main sports centres and swimming pool.

This will be a major undertaking, needing careful planning, which is why we have just published our strategy for how we are going to go about this between now and 2030.

Our plan is to replace Crown Pools with a new Aquatics Centre on the Portman Road car park. The new centre will have better leisure water – including much-requested flumes – a bigger gym, better facilities for fitness classes, soft play and a café. The new centre is planned to open in 2027.

It isn’t possible to build the new centre at the current Crown Pools site as it is not big enough to accommodate all the facilities required for a modern aquatics centre. It is very expensive to retrofit old buildings to reduce their carbon footprint and will never give as good results as a purpose-built low-carbon building. On top of this, it would have left Ipswich without a major swimming pool for at least two years during construction works.

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We chose Portman Road after an extensive land search and it is the only suitable, available and cost-effective site we’ve found. We think it important to keep our main swimming pool in the middle of town, to keep it accessible to everyone in Ipswich and to support town centre businesses. Our already planned multi-storey car park will ensure there is still plenty of parking available.

A new Sports and Athletics Centre at Gainsborough will have an eight-court sports hall, bigger gym and fitness suites, a new extended Gymnastics Centre and an eight-lane athletics track as well as new grass and artificial pitches and changing rooms. It is planned to open in 2025.

Sports facilities at Whitton will be the last major development before 2030. These plans are still being developed to ensure the best use of council-owned land in the area and to try and ensure perennial problems like the junction of Old Norwich Road and Whitton Church Lane are finally resolved.

Northgate Sports Centre is owned by Suffolk County Council but currently managed by Ipswich Borough Council on their behalf. As part of our strategy, we will be focussing on centres in the borough council’s ownership so will be returning the management of Northgate to the county council.

Some of our new provision will either replicate or improve on what is currently available at Northgate, so, for instance, there is currently a six-lane athletics track at Northgate but we will also be providing a new eight-lane athletics track at Gainsborough.

All new centres will be either carbon neutral or have a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

New facilities of the quality we are planning are a significant investment so it is reasonable to ask where the money will come from, given the continuing constraints on the council’s finances.

Development is being phased over the next eight years, so the money does not have to be found in one go. We expect to get significant grant funding from different sources which will reduce the amount the council has to find. There will be a capital receipt from the sale of the old Crown Pools site which can be set against the cost of the project.

And the new facilities will be much cheaper to operate, requiring less maintenance than our existing ageing buildings, and because they will use less energy. This saving can be used to finance borrowing to pay for the rest of the cost.

This is an ambitious programme which will require a lot of hard work to pull off, but it will be worth it. By the end of the decade, we will have significantly improved both the quality and the quantity of sports provision in our town with state-of-the-art modern new, carbon-neutral, facilities that everyone in Ipswich can be proud of.