New home needs careful thought

LET'S give two and a half cheers for the news that county hall in Ipswich is to be converted into very sheltered accommodation for elderly people.On the face of it, it looks like a very sensible use for a historic building that's listed and therefore has to be dealt with sympathetically.

LET'S give two and a half cheers for the news that county hall in Ipswich is to be converted into very sheltered accommodation for elderly people.

On the face of it, it looks like a very sensible use for a historic building that's listed and therefore has to be dealt with sympathetically.

My concern is that I'm far from convinced that a large site midway between Suffolk College - hopefully soon to be the county's university - and the town centre is best place to put some of the frailest members of the community.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that the residents would be at any risk from the students - but we need to be aware of the fear that could be suffered.


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The fact is that students returning to their digs or halls of residence after a Friday or Saturday night in the town will make a noise - they don't return like trappist monks.

And while laughing and raised voices may, to them, merely be the expression of a good night out, frail elderly people in their flats can find that very threatening.

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It's not a new phenomenon - when I was at university a generation ago we knew we had to be quiet as we walked past an old folks' home which was between our favourite pub and the hall of residence. A bit too much noise and we'd hear it from our tutor on Monday morning!

As the county council has moved away from its buildings in the St Helen's Street/Rope Walk area of Ipswich, there has been some criticism in some quarters of the town that it hasn't paid enough attention to the aspiration to create a new university in the town.

There have been suggestions that the county should have given its buildings away to give the university a head start.

I'm not sure that was realistic for an authority that has had council tax protesters breathing down its neck for the last 18 months.

The solution - that the land in Rope Walk should be bought by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) to be handed over to the university project - seems the most sensible for all concerned.

I am more convinced than ever that a successful university bid is absolutely vital if Ipswich is to have the chance to develop over the next few decades.

It's the only way to guarantee the future of its cultural life - the theatres, Corn Exchange and museum.

If the government gives it the go-ahead over the next few months it will provide light at the end of the tunnel for the town's beleaguered cultural centres. Without it, there can be no real future for the Regent - and the Corn Exchange will look increasingly vulnerable again.

WHAT is it that makes town centres distinctive?

Over the last few days we've had a report from a group of academics who have warned about the creation of “clone towns” full of the same chain stores as each other.

That's very true - but isn't it merely a reflection of what customers want? The fact is people like to buy what they're familiar with wherever they are.

But the mix can differ - people from Ipswich will travel to Norwich or Cambridge to shop at John Lewis stores. I understand people from those cities come here to go to Allders.

There are a few specialist shops, but they tend to be on the side streets - where the rents aren't so high - and also tend to cater mainly for local people because they're the ones who know where they are!

But of course what does make towns and cities distinctive is their markets. One of the main reasons people go from here to Cambridge or Norwich is to root around in the large markets.

My family recently stopped in at Lichfield, a small city in the West Midlands, on our way home from holiday.

The shops were identical to those in Ipswich or Bury. But Saturday was market day - and here there were some very distinctive clothes for teenagers that you won't see elsewhere as well as other interesting stalls.

I was left with the feeling that the one way to encourage individuality is to encourage local markets - if there is another shopping centre built it will only attract new branches of national and international chains.

It can only be a matter of time before we get a Starbucks in Ipswich!!

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