New school is not good enough for old Ipswich Co-op site

Co-op in Carr Street

The main entrance to the old Co-op department store in Carr Street must be retained in any redevelopment. - Credit: Archant

No one would describe Carr Street in Ipswich as the jewel in the crown of the oldest English town.

The northern side of it is a hotch-potch of unimaginative 1960s creations which appeared after the sad demolition of a fine newspaper publisher's building.

While the south side of the street is home to what is arguably Ipswich's ugliest building - the former Woolworths store that now hosts Poundland.

But there is one building in the street that has always been worth a second look, especially if you lift your eyes off the ground. 

That is the old Co-op department store - especially the former main entrance under the tiled facade with the Co-op motto above. 

Now there is a proposal to pull that down and replace it with a brand new school in a building that looks as if it has been designed to resemble a fast-food joint on a retail park!

Carr Street school CGI

The proposed new school looks like something from a retail park! - Credit: Concertus

I've heard lots of criticism of the proposals for a new school on that site in Carr Street. I have to say the vast majority of them are totally unjustified and show a total lack of imagination about the point of the project.

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A school there would be really good for the town. It would provide much-needed new educational facilities and give a real focus for the community that so many people want to see develop in that part of the town.

I don't accept for a second all these spurious claims that it would fail because families living on the Waterfront would have nowhere to park their car when taking the kids to school - it will be crying out for children to walk there.

For that reason I was very keen on the proposals to convert the old Co-op store into a new primary school - even if in fact it only meant retaining the facade because the rest of the building would have to come down because it was totally unsuitable to educational use.

Then it all went quiet until earlier this year we suddenly heard that it would not be possible to save any part of the Co-op's main Carr Street facade, and a sketch showing what could replace it was produced.

At that point I did start to feel misled. This project was mainly about education - but it was also about regeneration. And you don't regenerate an area by demolishing the one building worth keeping and replacing it with something, in the Ipswich Society's words, mundane.

The detailed CGI just published magnified all those fears. If the designers and operators of the new school really cannot incorporate the new school and the old facade, they really should go away and look at the whole project. 

Co-op motto

The details on the old Co-op store are worth preserving. - Credit: Archant

Turn the school by 90 degrees so it takes up a bit more of the Cox Lane car park behind it - NCP is in such dire financial straits because of the lack of cars using their parks across the country that they would probably bite the hand off if any deal was offered - and allow the attractive listed building to be converted into flats.

There has to be a better option than just reducing the last interesting part of Carr Street to the level of the rest of it!

I must admit that what also disappointed me about the design of the new building was that it came from Concertus - an architecture and design company usually associated with high-quality buildings, especial for the public sector.

That has been involved with The Hold on the Waterfront, the new Blue Light hub that is being created in Princes Street and several school projects in the county - all have been high-quality, interesting buildings. I can only assume someone had an off-day when the Carr Street project was put together.

Lastly, one of the main arguments from supporters of the new building appears to be "it's better than having an empty site for ever."

I'm really not sure that's true in this case. I believe in the motto that you shouldn't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good - but this proposed building is not good. It is inadequate.

I don't think I could reasonably be accused of being someone who is naturally opposed to change - I welcomed the changes to the Cornhill, I was broadly in favour of the changes to the town's road layout that saw the successful new junction created at Princes Street/Civic Drive. I've been very supportive of the massive changes around the Waterfront. 

I did smile a bit when someone said my criticism of the Carr Street proposal was because  "You want to live in a museum!"

But however much you want to see the town change as we move through the 21st century, you cannot automatically accept every change as being for the good. You have to retain a critical eye.

And, for me, this new proposal in Carr Street is a step too far. Yes there should be a school on that site - but if the developers and promoters really cannot find away of building it without trashing an important part of Ipswich's heritage then they really should look harder to find a better solution.