What will a university bring to Ipswich?

Today brings the next instalment from RICHARD LISTER of University Campus Suffolk. His monthly series charts one of the biggest projects to affect Ipswich in the futureIT is a feature of human activity and endeavour, that sometimes we fail.

Today brings the next instalment from RICHARD LISTER of University Campus Suffolk. His monthly series charts one of the biggest projects to affect Ipswich in the future

IT is a feature of human activity and endeavour, that sometimes we fail.

We have all worked on projects, either professionally or at home, that for whatever reason have not gone to plan.

Sometimes the plan is just flawed, sometimes we can't persuade everyone to join in or it may prove too expensive, there are thousands of reasons that can be used to explain failure. Even the best laid plans can go wrong and of course we respond to this in different ways. There's a big part of me that agrees with Homer Simpson who declared 'you tried your best, and failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.'


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But of course the other, more responsible, side of me believes that you should think again, do something different, bring some new ideas and approaches to bear, stitch a new improved plan together and see if it works better.

Sometimes it takes a few goes to get it right and sometimes it needs a happy marriage of a great idea coming together at just the moment the world is ready for it. Right place, right time.

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Which brings me to University Campus Suffolk. After a few false starts, followed by a different approach, some lateral thinking and we have the bones of a great project.

But it needs a bit of luck and good timing too and it is certainly the case that the university has come about at the perfect moment. It is worth reminding people how big an enterprise this is.

The Higher Education Funding Council has given £15m in capital plus long term support for student places - outside the gigantic University of Manchester this is its largest grant. Anywhere. Ever.

The East of England Development Agency has given £17.5m to the university which it describes as its one “transformational project” in the Eastern Counties. The universities of East Anglia and Essex have given over £10m and a massive £13m has come from Suffolk County Council.

Ipswich Borough Council is donating land on the waterfront to ensure we can build a proper balanced university campus, attractive to incoming students with residences, shops and entertainment.

So what does everyone get out of it - who benefits? Well Suffolk - and Ipswich especially - are the big winners. Hundreds, maybe thousands of new jobs - often at the highest level of skills, a huge boost to the economy with direct cash injections to the county of £60m each year and the introduction of new modern businesses clustering around the new knowledge base. And it will change the character of our town of course. That's not a worry - look at any of the books of old photographs of Ipswich and it reminds us that change is inevitable and welcome. The trick is to keep all the good things that make Ipswich a great place to be - and to bring in new things that will make it even better.

There is no doubt that Ipswich offers a high quality of life for its citizens - but a large thriving university can make a positive difference.

For example it could be a more fun town for younger people - who do seem to find it er, well, a bit dull? Remember the t-shirt with the slogan 'Don't hurry me… I'm from Suffolk' maybe not a slogan that teenagers can rally around! And to be honest there are times when Ipswich - my town! - can seem to lack some things that can be found in the other East Anglian capitals of Cambridge, Colchester and Norwich.

Of course there are lots of great things already to build on. The Wolsey is getting great reviews, excellent nights at the Regent, a thriving local music scene across all genres. But we should aspire to be the best place to live, work shop and be entertained. The town is going to benefit from a better range of shops bars and restaurants which the incoming money will bring. And better entertainment - more bands, concerts, comedy nights and theatre. More people with disposable income, more well paid jobs can transform our town centre too. It will help the council's ambition to be the region's premier shopping destination. New shops, a better choice - the development of the Mint Quarter to enlarge and improve the town as a place to shop, eat out and simply wander around.

These are the reasons so much money is being pumped in to the university. The sponsors, especially the councils, know it will generate major improvements and they will get their investment back many times over.

There are lots of occasions when government both local and national get criticised for crazy decisions - but when they get it right and when joined up government works - it works big.

So the new university will make a big contribution to improving our town. And how will we measure success? Well we will know we are on the right lines when there is a broader range of interesting shops and bars, when we get our first Michelin starred restaurant, when the Arctic Monkeys are playing a new Waterside venue and John Lewis and IKEA are fighting over retail space. Oh and the Blues will be back in the Premiership of course!

Changing the face of Ipswich? I can't wait.

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