How Ipswich town centre can thrive despite growth of retail parks
- Credit: Paul Geater
Ipswich town centre can thrive in the future - but not by relying on big name brands as more national and international chains turn their attention to retail parks on the edge.
That's the verdict of the business group Ipswich Central after the last 18 months which have accelerated the shift from a retail focus in the area with big names like Debenhams, Top Shop and Burton all disappearing.
Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said national retail chains should be encouraged to stay in the town centre as long as possible - but the days of relying on them as the main driver of the economy were probably over.
Over recent months there has been a flurry of applications and openings for new retail and restaurant/cafe applications at Anglia Retail Park on Bury Road, Copdock and at Ransomes/Futura Park and Warren Heath on the east of town.
The Martlesham Retail park also attracts thousands of shoppers from a wide area.
Mr Clement said: "I'm not worried about new large food stores - but I do think we need more local food suppliers in the town centre. So far as other stores are concerned there does need to be a town centre first strategy.
"But while we want to cherish and value the big names in the town centre, we cannot any longer rely on them to drive the town forward.
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"On the other hand there is a real opportunity for independent retailers, especially those who are grouped together in particular areas of the town like St Peter's Street."
The town centre does benefit from still being at the heart of Ipswich's entertainment scene - with cinemas and theatres and most pubs and restaurants.
But Mr Clement said it was still important to get more people living in the heart of Ipswich.
"We are still 'under-lived' and it is good to see more homes being built or converted from existing buildings. What is also needed is more independent food shops selling locally-grown and produced items."
Independent retailer Cathy Frost runs LoveOne in St Peter's Street and said small businesses like hers bring character to the area - but there needs to be active management to encourage people to visit the area.
She said: "Ipswich Central does what it does very well - but we need to see more events to bring people out and help to boost the community in the town centre - there does need to be much more happening as people are able to get out more."
There was a difference between people visiting the town centre for a leisurely shopping trip, stopping off at cafe for a coffee or lunch, and just dashing to a retail park to buy a few specific items.
And the town centre did have to offer something different if people were to be persuaded to pay to park their car and spend time browsing in shops.
Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere said the borough did try to protect the town centre as a retail destination through planning regulations - there are restrictions on what can be sold out of town and how much floorspace can he used to sell "non-bulky" items.
The council does have an interest in retail parks through its Ipswich Borough Assets property company which owns the Anglia Retail Park on Bury Road in Ipswich and Beardmore Park at Martlesham Heath which includes the large Marks & Spencer food store.
On Wednesday the council deferred a decision whether Lidl should be able to develop a new food store on Futura Park to replace its current store on the opposite site of Nacton Road at Ravenswood.
But it is expected to return to councillors soon and they are also likely to receive a new planning application for another new food store on the opposite side of town at Anglia Retail Park - although the likely operator has not yet been confirmed.
Mr Ellesmere said: "We do what we can to try to protect the town centre, but fashions change over the years. There was a phase of out of town developments 30 years ago then businesses came back to the town centres and now things are changing again."