Row over Stoke shopping centre
A ROW has erupted between Ipswich councillors over the future of a community shopping centre.Two decades ago trade at Stoke Park shops was flourishing – local residents used the precinct for their day to day needs, shopping for groceries and household items.
A ROW has erupted between Ipswich councillors over the future of a community shopping centre.
Two decades ago trade at Stoke Park shops was flourishing – local residents used the precinct for their day to day needs, shopping for groceries and household items.
Today, nearly three quarters of the shops are empty and the site is in vital need of redevelopment – many units have been vandalised and some shoppers fear visiting the precinct after dark.
Labour Councillor Roger Fern lives in the area and organised a petition asking residents if they wanted to see the site redeveloped – the response was overwhelming with more than 850 signatures collected.
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He said: "The empty shops look derelict and threatening and deter people from using the centre.
"We would like to literally turn them inside-out so that the shop fronts face outwards.
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"The site is designated as a district shopping centre it is therefore supposed to be a large centre."
The scale of redevelopment is the main source of dispute – most agree that the shops would benefit from facing onto the street but the number of shops required has not been agreed.
Stoke resident Paul West is standing as Conservative candidate for the next general election. He believes that the site should be reduced.
"The owner who would finance the development believes that the local market can only sustain six retail units and that is what they propose. It seems that the council is standing in the way of this initiative.
"They want the centre to be a district centre which in planning terms means about twenty retail units – the owner does not believe that this is economically viable and I would agree."
Steve Miller, Ipswich Borough council's planning officer, said: "We want to see the area completely redeveloped with a mixture of shops, houses and flats. The area is in a declining state and there is no prospect of substantial reinvestment.
"We are not standing in the way – we have had one or two discussions with developers but have had no previous applications and are promoting redevelopment. The area was upgraded in the local plan from a local centre to a district centre."
Many local residents believe that a smaller development would be more successful.
Jean Smith lives close to the shops in Ramsey Close said: "I think if there were more shops there is a possibility in the real world that they would not be able to occupy them. I'd like to see a smaller version of what is already there.
"The ways things have gone I don't think a large centre would be a viable proposition."
Some residents are also concerned about vandalism in the centre and the large number of youths who loiter in the square at night.
Raymond Greenleaf, also of Ramsey Close said: "It is an absolute disgrace – I won't let my wife go over there, I won't even go myself in the evenings.
"I've lived here for 30 odd years and it used to be lovely. If shops faced outward it could be better as it's currently enclosed – it needs cleaning up. I don't think there is one empty shop over there with its window in tact."