Video/Gallery: Widespread welcome for Cornhill plans – but cool reception from Ipswich Society

An architects impression of the proposed new look for Ipswich Cornhill

An architects impression of the proposed new look for Ipswich Cornhill - Credit: Archant

The new look for Ipswich Cornhill has been official unveiled with major changes from the original design outlined last year.

The winning design – by the Belfast architects’ practice Hall McKnight – was shown off yesterday.

Now all that is needed is £3.5 million to bring the vision to reality by the end of 2016!

The scheme would level a platform across the Cornhill linking the front of the Town Hall with the front of the old Post Office building – now Lloyds Bank.

The flat area would be flexible, with the opportunity for it to have a number of different uses – including market stalls.

A key feature of the design is a tower of light near the front of the Debenhams store.

Extending the new platform across the front of both the Town Hall and the old Post Office will need the formal closure of the top of Princes Street – Suffolk County Council is backing the scheme and is expected to bring forward the road closure orders in the near future.

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The design was chosen unanimously by a panel drawn up from the borough and county councils, UCS, Ipswich Central, and MP Ben Gummer. They were advised by former Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose who led calls for an improvement to the Cornhill at the Beacon Town conference in September 2012.

Borough council leader David Ellesmere said his authority had put aside a quarter of the cost of the work – about £800,000, and would be looking for contributions from the county council, government bodies, and the private sector through Ipswich Central.

He said: “There is some work to do there but there is a widespread acceptance that this scheme will improve the town centre and I hope we shall be able to raise the money within the next 18 months to two years.”

The work would probably take six months to complete – meaning the earliest the new Cornhill could be completed would be late 2016.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “In a sense the difficult part, raising the money, is still to come – but the fact that we were able to agree unanimously shows there is widespread support for this project to go ahead.”

He was “75% confident” that the money would be found: “In less than four years there has been £150 million invested in Ipswich. I would hope this would not be too difficult – it is vital to transform the town centre.”

The county council is still considering whether to put any money into the scheme – a statement pointed out that it is currently managing the £21 million Travel Ipswich project, even though only £2.5 million of that came from county funds, the bulk of it came from the Department for Transport.

While there was a widespread welcome at the official launch, one leading organisation in the town remains unconvinced by the plans.

John Norman, chairman of the Ipswich Society, said his members had strong views on the future of the Cornhill.

He said: “Personally I don’t have a problem with these plans. But we asked our members what they thought and the general feeling is that it would be a total waste of money.

“They feel that while the Cornhill might be looking a little tired after it was rebuilt in 1986, there are other areas of the town centre that could benefit much more from £3.5 million that this.”

He said the Society’s members felt the money would be better spent improving the Waterfront, improving the area around St Margaret’s Plain or sorting out the disused former Odeon cinema.