Two years to rescue Ipswich town centre says MP Ben Gummer
Ipswich town centre has a two-year window to transform itself before developers could start worrying about the start of the next recession, the town’s MP has warned.
And Ben Gummer urged everyone involved with the redevelopment of the town centre to pull together and get on with encouraging investors to build in Ipswich.
He said: “We need to get things going in the next two years. We all know that economic activity goes in cycles. I’m not one of those who says ‘No more boom and bust.’
“We have to get things going now to ensure we don’t miss the boat like Ipswich has so many times in the past.
“This is not the time for more arguments about where investment should happen. That is in the vision. We need to get on with persuading retailers and developers that this is a town to invest in.”
Mr Gummer said there were already promising signs, like the multi-million pound investment in the Buttermarket and Tower Ramparts shopping centres.
But work was needed on creating new large units for retailers like Next – the town centre store closes in October.
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Mr Gummer said: “I know that Next want to stay in Ipswich town centre, but they did not find their current store really suits their needs.
“They want a larger store with a more straight-forward configuration. We have to look at how the town can meet those needs.”
The Ipswich Vision suggests new “big box” stores should be created on the eastern side of Upper Brook Street which could be linked to a new NCP multi-storey car park on the site of the Tacket Street Car Park.
NCP already owns the freehold of many of the stores on Upper Brook Street and the closure of Browne’s Menswear at the end of this month could give the company more flexibility.
Mr Gummer said he hoped to meet senior figures at NCP over the next few weeks and would be hoping to persuade them to look at developing their sites in the town.
Borough council leader David Ellesmere accepted that now was the time to attract new investment – and was aware of the effect that an economic downturn could have on the town.
He said: “We’ve lost both The Cloisters and Mint Quarter developments when the economy has turned down, so we are well aware of the importance of getting on with this work.
“If there is a firm plan to build new large shops on Upper Brook Street and a multi-storey car park behind it then the council will be very keen to see that work go ahead – but it could be that retailers would rather be nearer Debenhams and Marks and Spencer at the other end of the town centre.
“You will only see Upper Brook Street develop if there is a major anchor store before work starts.”
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter felt that the certainty that had been brought about by the clear result in the general election gave an opportunity for the town to go out and find investment.
He said: “History tells us that the first two years after a decisive general election result gives investors the confidence to back new projects.
“The partners behind the new vision for Ipswich recognise this and will be doing all we can to attract new investment to the town. In particular it is important that the borough, which is responsible for planning and economic development, is taking a leading role in this.”