Sitting on a goldmine

ONE of the most puzzling aspects of Ipswich life at the moment is the failure of the developers and agents of Grafton House in Russell Road to find tenants for the retail/restaurant units on the ground floor.

ONE of the most puzzling aspects of Ipswich life at the moment is the failure of the developers and agents of Grafton House in Russell Road to find tenants for the retail/restaurant units on the ground floor.

The borough council's headquarters uses the remaining five floors of the building, but on the ground floor there is space for several business units.

With about 500 people working in Grafton House itself, 1,100 in Endeavour House across the road and a further 1,000 in other offices in the Ipswich Village area I really would have thought this would be the ideal place for a retailer.

I was speaking to one officer at the borough the other day who told me: “Since we have been here I've noticed people are going into the town centre much less than they used to.

“I don't go out of the office unless I have something specific to get but if there was a shop or a café here I'm sure I'd pop into to get a paper, some groceries, or something like that.

“I can't work out why these units weren't snapped up as soon as we moved in here. With us, the county council, the Customer Service Direct (CSD) Staff, the court, and everyone else working here there's a ready market of customers.”

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He said some staff wondered if developers Northern Estates were asking for rents that were too high to find tenants for the units.

The company's agents - Bidwells - are working hard to find people to move in, but at the moment there is no sign of any “under offer” signs. I had been told there was a problem finding tenants because the area is very quiet at weekends, with few office workers at their desks on a Saturday or Sunday.

However there are still people visiting the nearby Staples office store and Fitness First gym - and both the borough and CSD has some staff working throughout the weekend.

And even if some were shut at the weekend, I'm sure they'd be able to make enough money during the week to make these units a real goldmine.

I can't help feeling someone with a little business acumen could make a killing by taking on one of these units. As it is staff have nowhere to go during their lunch breaks or to fill up with a few groceries before heading home at the end of the day.

My spies at both Endeavour and Grafton House tell me that's the only thing wrong with their new offices - the lack of any nearby shops and cafés.

They like working there but they do want to break out, if only for a few minutes, at lunchtime.

Without extra facilities in the area, Ipswich Village starts to feel like a complete “municipal” ghetto - and that's no good for anyone.

If you wander around the City of London it's dominated by offices - but there are still sandwich shops, grocery stores, and enough Starbucks and Costa branches to drown in coffee!

No one is suggesting that development on that scale will happen in Russell Road, but if no retailers can fill the gaps in the market, then there must be something wrong with the Ipswich Village area!

WHENEVER you poke fun at politicians you have to be a little bit wary - it's difficult to know exactly how they will react.

A few years ago we illustrated a piece I had written by super-imposing the heads of two leading councillors on to a couple of well-known cartoon characters.

One of these councillors felt the picture had undermined their position as serious upstanding members of the community. The other liked it so much she wanted the original to hang on the wall!

So when we decided to illustrate the row that has blown between Ipswich and Suffolk councils by putting the heads of the leaders on two boxing pictures, I was ready for whatever reaction would come my way.

I was pretty sure borough leader Liz Harsant wouldn't mind being transformed into Nell McAndrew who posed as a boxer a few years ago.

But I was a bit more worried about how county leader Jeremy Pembroke would react to becoming Ricky Gervais during his celebrity boxing bout against Grant Bovey.

I was pretty sure he would see the funny side - but I could not be certain.

Having let the press office at the county's Endeavour House know what was coming their way, I got an “Oh no!” from more than one of the spin doctors there.

So when a colleague called across the office to me; “It's Jeremy Pembroke on the line,” shortly after lunchtime I was a bit concerned.

I need not have worried. A jovial county council leader said: “Where did you get that picture from? How did you do it? Whose body did you give me?

“I love it. Can I get a copy - it's the funniest thing I've seen for a long time.”

We have printed out glossy copies of the front page for both Mr Pembroke and Mrs Harsant. The county council leader already knows what is happening to his: “It's going on the wall of my office as a permanent reminder to me not to take myself too seriously,” he said.

I'VE always enjoyed train travel and one of its great plus points is that it is the safest method of travel - there are very few fatalities among passengers or train crews which means when they happen they are big news.

That is why the Cumbrian train crash, in which one woman died and several were injured, led the national news agenda for several days at the weekend.

Yet the tragic double fatal on the A14 two days later was completely ignored by the national media.