Where will Ipswich town centre be at the end of the year?

Artist's impression of the future Buttermarket Shopping Centre in Ipswich.

Artist's impression of the future Buttermarket Shopping Centre in Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

Many people working to improve Ipswich town centre are convinced that 2016 will be the year when things really start to happen to transform it.

But what changes can we expect to see over the next 12 months? How different will things be by the time the Christmas tree goes back on to the Cornhill again?

Some projects are already under way:

The reconstruction of the Buttermarket Centre, turning it into a leisure-based hub anchored by a 12-screen Empire Multiplex should be complete.

Queen Street and the town end of Princes Street should have been fully paved – and Queen Street should be ready for its new role as the home of the town’s market.

On the retail scene there should have been major improvements over the year. Sailmakers will have had a year to make its new identity a feature of the town centre and will almost certainly have seen new retailers move into more of its units.

New stores will be moving in. Jack Wills may not have completed the deal to take over Croydon’s store in Tavern Street but it is already advertising for staff and it would be a major surprise if it does not open in the town by the middle of the year.

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Other major stores are also understood to be looking to move into Ipswich town centre and announcements are expected early in the year.

The transformation of the area in front of the New Wolsey into Theatre Square should make an attractive new meeting place for visitors.

The railway station should be transformed by the late summer, both inside and out. The forecourt will be made more attractive with better access for pedestrians – while internally the ticket hall will be opened up to make it more welcoming to passengers.

Princes Street is seeing major development with the refurbishment and redevelopment of Fison House and the purchase by the borough council of the former Hollywood nightclub building.

Both are expected to be occupied by the end of the year – and another notable building in the street to have a new lease of life will be Portman House, the former CSV Media Clubhouse and office block for Churchmans’ tobacco, which will become the new home of Archant – publisher of the EADT and Ipswich Star.

Early in the new year it should become clear what is to happen to several other projects, some of which could start in 2016.

The town’s Crown car park was closed and demolished in 2009 and for the last five years has operated as a surface car park.

The borough has to decide whether to install a second floor, doubling its capacity from about 230 to 450 at a cost of £3m or spending £12m to build a new 900-space multi-storey with four levels.

The first option would take about four months to complete and would be open in time for next Christmas – but work on a full multi-storey would take longer and would be unlikely to start until early 2017, finishing in time for the following Christmas.

Also early in the new year the future of the Cornhill should become clearer.

Work to transform the heart of the town centre is unlikely to start in 2016, but the Ipswich Vision team are hoping that a decision on the future of this site will become clearer, possibly through finance channelled through the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

Also in the early part of the year there should be an announcement about whether full funding has been secured for the Wet Dock crossing.

This would be expensive, but it would open up the Wet Dock Island site for development and would also ease traffic pressures around the Star Lane road network which cause major problems for the town centre.