Opinion: Ipswich is improving, but our councils need to move faster
- Credit: Archant
I’m told I’m something of a rarity because I’m a man who actually likes going into shops – so this time of the year doesn’t fill me with as much horror as it does some, writes Paul Geater.
This week’s news that Ipswich town centre has as few empty shops as it has ever had is certainly good for retailers – and it really does seem to have something of a buzz about it.
The new restaurants in the Buttermarket centre help enormously, but it’s the occupied shop units along the main shopping drag from Major’s Corner to Hyde Park Corner that really help give the town a sense of success at last.
The loss of BHS in the Buttermarket street is a shame, and hopefully by next Christmas that unit will be back in use in some form.
There is also a need to get a permanent tenant into the old Grimwades store – although that will probably have to wait until the Cornhill is remodelled and that is probably still two years away.
What does frustrate me about Ipswich town centre is the fact that the two local authorities responsible for it seem totally incapable of acting in a timely manner to sort out problems.
We’ve had the town centre blighted by Travel Ipswich for four years now. It was supposed to have been finished by April 2014. The last section originally planned, Queen Street pedestrianisation, still hasn’t been completed.
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It was due to have been completed by November 2013. I know there were changes to the specification, but a three-and- half-year delay really is taking the Mickey somewhat by the county!
But it isn’t just the county council that seems to have no sense of time or urgency.
Ipswich Borough Council announced in January 2015 it would build a new multi-storey car park in Crown Street.
It would look at the options and appoint contractors that year, start work in early 2016 and have it open by this Christmas.
That always seemed ambitious given the fact that local government operates to a timeframe all of its own, but when this was revised later in the year to aim for the car park to be completed by Christmas 2017, everything looked much better.
However, it took the borough until February this year to decide what kind of car park it wanted, until June to decide exactly what the specifications should be, and until this week to decide who should build it.
That’s nine months of navel gazing and consultations. Over a car park. Thank God they weren’t planning anything more ambitious!
The result is that the car park will not now be finished until January 16, 2018 – three weeks after Christmas Day.
During next year’s Christmas season there will be about 180 fewer parking spaces in the town centre than there are this year.
How many new retailers will that encourage to come to Ipswich next year? Is it too late to expect the borough to put a bit of pressure on contractors to try to complete the work a couple of months early?