The impact of growth on Suffolk

SUFFOLK's society is growing. More homes and businesses are coming to Ipswich and the region as a whole - but is growth really good for us? Environment editor PAUL GEATER looks at the future of the area.

SUFFOLK's society is growing. More homes and businesses are coming to Ipswich and the region as a whole - but is growth really good for us? Environment editor PAUL GEATER looks at the future of the area.

WHENEVER a company announces expansion plans, or announces it is moving into the area, it is keen to tell us how many jobs it will create.

It always sounds like good news - but does this area really need thousands of more jobs and homes?

The level of unemployment in the area is already below the national average and there are skill shortages in many jobs. Workers from other parts of the country - and indeed elsewhere in Europe - are coming in to fuel to the economic activity. And this in turn is putting great strain on the infrastructure and services in the area - from roads to schools to health facilities and community centres.

The redevelopment of the Waterfront area is rapidly changing the skyline of this part of Ipswich town centre.

Work on both Regatta Quay and The Mill - which between them will have more than 700 flats - is now well under way.

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And with the Persimmon developments at Orwell Quay (nearly completed) and Griffin Wharf (now rapidly taking shape) the population of this part of town is already starting to soar.

However the road network has not been changed significantly since the early 1980s and there is already considerable peak-time congestion in the town centre.

Ambitious proposals for new roads, either linking the east bank of the docks directly with the A14 or over the River Orwell seem unlikely to pursued, either because of their substantial cost or because of the damage they would cause to the environment.

The idea of turning Star Lane into a two-way road and making Key Street/College Street a pedestrian and bus-only road has been kicked into the long grass by council officials worried about the impact on the growing amount of traffic.

But there is increasing concern about whether the existing road network around the Waterfront will be able to cope with the traffic generated by the massive new development currently under way there.

And there remains concern that by effectively having a dual carriageway separating the Waterfront from the town centre, there remains the threat that the new part of Ipswich will not feel part of the overall picture.

As Ipswich has grown, two new primary schools have been built in the town over recent years - at Ravenswood and Piper's Vale. But both replaced existing smaller schools rather than adding to the number of schools in the town. No new high school has been built in Ipswich since Stoke High in the 1970s - and that replaced Tower Ramparts school.

There are new education developments taking shape in the town - the new university building, New Suffolk College, and the proposed new sixth form centre planned for the south west of the town.

The university and New Suffolk College should attract more high achieving young people into the town - but they are also adding to the housing pressures. New student accommodation blocks are being built and many of the studio flats on the Waterfront are eventually expected to be occupied by students leasing them during term times. They are expected to bring an extra dimension to the town centre - but will also place pressures on the town's infrastructure.

Universities do bring added wealth to the communities they are part of, and there is real hope to that the arrival of UCS will provide the catalyst to start work on the long-awaited Mint Quarter.

And while new students will bring a new young population to the town, evidence elsewhere suggests only a small proportion of them will have cars to add to the congestion around the town.

Ipswich Borough Council economic development spokesman Richard Atkins feels it is vital that the town should continue to grow. His aim is to see Ipswich become the dominant economic power in East Anglia - and he feels that is possible as development continues.

Mr Atkins said: “In 2020 I would like to think that Ipswich will be much bigger and be the economic engine driving the whole region.

“I would like to see an enlarged retail sector in the town centre, a thriving university providing fresh thinking in the town and a much more prosperous area.

“There have to be concerns about the way the area develops. We don't want to lose what makes this area so special in the first place.

“But we cannot stand still - to do that would mean that Ipswich and Suffolk would effectively go backwards.”


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PROPOSALS for new flats on the site of the BOCM Pauls offices posed a classic dilemma for borough council chiefs looking at expansion in the Waterfront.

On the one hand the proposal for more than 200 flats, shops, offices and a craft market would breathe new life into a site that is run-down and neglected.

However putting another 200 homes there and introducing an area of paved road could cause serious new congestion in the Star Lane/Key Street area - one of the busiest routes in the town.

The initial thoughts of council leaders once the development was proposed was that this was one plan too many for an area that is seeing massive growth. However after discussions with planning officers and assurances from developers, the planning application was eventually given provisional approval earlier this month.

Council leader Liz Harsant, who was initially very concerned about the proposal, said the fears appeared to have been satisfactorily addressed - although council officers will have to continue working with the developers to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum.

POLITICIANS and civic leaders in Suffolk agree that continued expansion and economic growth is necessary - but accept that their does need to be care taken to ensure it is not unbalanced.

Ipswich MP Chris Mole felt it was vital that the area continues to strive for economic growth - otherwise there was the danger of stagnation and a loss of wealth.

He said: “There have to be safeguards against overheating the economy and creating a bubble, growth does have to be sustainable.

“But you cannot just pull up the drawbridge and say 'we are big enough now.' That would be disastrous for the area - Ipswich is at the heart of a county and an area which has seen rapid change and expansion over the last few decades but that needs to continue.”

Mr Mole accepted that expansion would put pressure on the infrastructure of the area - especially the need for new homes and transport networks - but felt this pressure could be managed.

He said: “There are businesses in the area that desperately need to expand and if they can't expand here then they would look at moving elsewhere.

“I was recently talking to a major freight company based in Ipswich which needs to expand its operations here.

“If it can't do that in the Ipswich or Felixstowe area then it will look elsewhere in the country which would ultimately lead to jobs going from this area - I don't want to see that happen,” he said.

The arrival of new residents could cause problems if there were not the support networks for them - but Mr Mole feels that up to now there has been little tension between Suffolk people and those who have moved recently looking for an improved life.

THE Green Party has long been cautious about the dash for economic growth - emphasising quality of life issues rather than the big is best attitude.

However Brenda Cavanagh from the Ipswich branch of the party was keen to emphasise it was not opposed to all growth - it just wanted to ensure it was sustainable and would not add to global warming.

She said: “We see some growth as beneficial to the local community, so long as the needs of everyone are taken into account. We want to see more help and encouragement given to people to walk and cycle in the town - and we want there to be much better public transport links.”

Human scale was important - but there needed to more encouragement to build on brownfield sites rather than expand into the countryside.

“Growth is not wrong in itself - it is the way it is handled that we need to be careful of,” she said.