Too many chiefs? Why Ipswich's number of leaders could be a problem

Ipswich town centre will no longer be able to rely on big name national retailers for its success, s

Is Ipswich's development being held back by too many organisations trying to drive it forward? - Credit: Paul Geater

Ipswich town centre is currently at something of a crossroads, as more of us start to relax after the pandemic - but I'm not at all sure whether it is entirely moving in a positive direction.

On the plus side, it is good hear about the expected arrival of bar chain Brewdog at the Waterfront, restaurant The Botanist at the Old Post Office and a street-food eatery at the former Little Waitrose.

They are all great additions to the town centre and I'm sure they will do well. It probably says something about my age that the arrival of a new tea shop at the old Monsoon store is the one that I find most exciting!

But when I go into the town centre, I do increasingly find myself asking what is in it for people like us, who live on the edge of the town and for whom a trip to the centre involves a car, bus or cycle journey.

I get the "connected town" concept - the idea of living within a 15-minute walk of all the services a town provides.

But what about those who don't want to live that near? Those who do want a small(ish) private garden where we can sit at our own table on a nice day or leave our clothes on the washing line while we go out.

What can the town centre offer us on a weekly or more frequent basis?

Entertainment and leisure is great - but how often does the average family or individual go out for a meal? The same question can be asked about cinema and theatre visits.

I know shopping is now seen as a very old-fashioned activity - but many still do prefer to go out to the shops, rather than have everything delivered.

And that is where the town centre still struggles. 

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Increasingly, the kind of thing you used to buy from the town centre is easily available from a retail park - or in another town where you can make a bit of a day out from a visit.

Against this background, Ipswich really needs to sell itself and to get the punters back.

It has the tools to do that, if they are used to the best of their ability.

Ipswich Central has done a good job in promoting the town centre over many years and deserves the opportunity to carry on doing that work.

However, I do sometimes worry that the number of organisations and civic leaders that have been created over recent years sometimes results in a "too many cooks . . . " situation.

Ipswich Central exists because it is financially supported and elected into position by town centre businesses.

If they vote in favour of its continuing, they all pay a levy and can have a say in how it operates.

However, this elected position does sometimes cause some tension with the borough council which is, of course, also elected - in their case by voters (or at least those voters who bother to take part in elections).

To ease these tensions and provide a forum where these bodies and other important players in the town and beyond could get together, the Ipswich Vision Partnership was created under another chairperson.

Last year, this got another string to its bow when Ipswich was invited to bid for government money from the new Town Deal.

That had to have its own board - and in the first instance, the Vision Partnership took on this role with its chairman being chairman of the Town Deal as well.

Now though, the time has come to find a new Ipswich Vision Partnership chairman or chairwoman - and a new chairperson of the town deal board.

By the end of the year, the future of the town will be in the hands of four different leaders all taking on slightly different roles - Ipswich Central, Ipswich council, Ipswich Vision Partnership and Ipswich Town Deal.

They are all keen to work together to move the town forward.

However, from the outside, it sometimes feels as if they are having to spend so long negotiating with each other and finding a compromise that the momentum never seems to get going as fast as it should.

Maybe eventually someone will come up with a single body to push the town forward - possible a directly-elected mayor to take the bull by the horns - but that seems a long way off.

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