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Summer / Autumn 2019 Opportunity Articles

Ipswich Vision: Turning the Town Around

Now entering its fifth year, The Ipswich Vision was set up to provide the impetus for Ipswich to achieve its full potential.

Ipswich is a great and ancient town with exceptional promise. It has the potential to be one of the most exciting centres in the UK. The town sits in the middle of a golden triangle that connects leading global centres of research, Norwich and Cambridge and an hour from Central London by train.

The county town has many historical connections most notably Chaucer, Dickens, Constable, Gainsborough and Thomas Wolsey. It has the most Art Council England National Portfolio holders in the East of England including Dance East, Eastern Angles, Gecko, New Wolsey Theatre, Pacitti Company, Russell Maliphant Dance Company and Suffolk Libraries.

The Ipswich Waterfront has been transformed in recent years and is now a stunning marina, a real leisure destination.

However, prior to 2015, there had been several attempts to improve both the perception and the fortunes of the town with limited success. The town struggled after its industrial heritage shrank, with the loss of its heavy engineering base and shrinking port activities. In recent years, perceptions about the town have been mixed and Ipswich has not measured up to what its residents and visitors might expect from the county town.

The Ipswich Vision is truly collaborative. Partners include Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Central, Visit Ipswich, New Anglia LEP, Sandy Martin, MP for Ipswich, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce Greater Ipswich, Suffolk County Council and University of Suffolk.

The aim of the Vision Partners is to reconcile its potential with the challenges facing the town; to create “East Anglia’s Waterfront Town”. The original plan identified 21 priorities tackling the issues of regeneration, inward investment, infrastructure, the visitor economy and social mobility.

The Vision also identified three principles that would underpin all the projects and make the town more experiential, unified and consistent:

1.      Ipswich is a compact town and should be readily accessible: Three key anchor sites were identified, Ipswich Railway Station, Cornhill and the University of Suffolk. The Vision will strive to make it pleasant and effortless for pedestrians to move around.

2.      Commitment to a new North-South axis: Linking the town centre and Christchurch Park to the Waterfront whilst creating opportunities for development in this area.

3.      Recognising the town has distinct quarters: Each with their own identity and offering their own contribution to the revitalisation of Ipswich. Examples include the central area around the Cornhill and the innovation area around the University and Suffolk New College.

Since the plan’s launch in 2015, several projects have been delivered or are progressing.

The Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre: This £5.5m facility was opened in October 2016. Established by the University of Suffolk as a focal point for developing new entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. It is a collaborative workspace providing hot desk space, networking and training opportunities.

Refurbishment of Ipswich Railway Station: Ipswich Railway Station was named as the best Large Station in the country at the National Rail Awards in 2018. Greater Anglia, SCC and IBC all made investments to improve and refurbish the internal and external elements of the station, to provide an improved gateway to the town.

Redevelopment of the Cornhill: One of the first projects highlighted by Ipswich Vision, the new scheme was unveiled in Autumn 2018. The new look Cornhill includes more trees and seating, a water feature and landscaping. The Cornhill will play a significant role in achieving a more experiential town centre, becoming a hub for performance, cultural and community events.

Public Realm improvements to St Peter’s Dock: Work is currently underway to improve the western gateway to the Waterfront, St Peter’s Dock. A jointly delivered project from IBC and SCC, with Coastal Communities Funds secured by Ipswich Vision. It will provide a better experience for cyclists and pedestrians entering the Waterfront at that point.

Construction of a new Crown Street Car Park: Completed in summer 2018, it has capacity for 541 cars including 28 electric charging points and is the perfect car park to access the centre of town, the museum, Christchurch Park and the New Wolsey Theatre.

The Development of the Suffolk Heritage Centre: In Spring 2020, the new Suffolk Heritage Centre will open. Located at the University of Suffolk on the Waterfront and called The Hold, it will house the Suffolk Record offices as well as public spaces, lecture rooms and a café. It will offer a transformed audience-focused service ready to reach out to all our diverse communities in Ipswich, the county and the UK.

The Princes Street Office Corridor: This includes an Enterprise Zone. The Connections Building is now fully occupied and Birketts moved into its new offices last year. The Maltings office project on the site of the old Hollywood nightclub is now underway and combined with the refurbishment to the Railway Station, this corridor into town is now a well-established and pleasant thoroughfare.

Taking account of projects completed and currently underway, the Vision Board reviewed and established some new priorities earlier this year.

They are:

•   To determine the approach to the future use of Carr Street and the western end of Westgate Street.

•   To complete the Princes Street office corridor redevelopment incorporating new buildings and car park.

•   To develop an annual programme of events and promotions on the Cornhill.

•   To deliver at least £3m of further improvements to the public realm.

•   To agree and implement an inward investment strategy for businesses and consumers.

Terry Hunt, Ipswich Vision Chair, said: “I spent more than 20 years as Editor of the EADT hearing people in wider Suffolk being negative about Ipswich. Much of that negativity was unfair and based on misconceptions.

“Ipswich has huge potential, and Suffolk needs a buoyant, successful Ipswich. The partners who make up Ipswich Vision are determined to regenerate our town. In the last four years, we have made good progress, but there is still a great deal to be done.

“Our latest set of priorities reflect the challenges and opportunities ahead, set in the context of major change in all town centres. Ipswich has many great assets - a wonderful Waterfront, beautiful parks, it is an important cultural hub, and has unrivalled history and heritage.

“Ipswich Vision is continuing to work hard to enable this fantastic town to achieve its full potential.”

For further information visit the Ipswich Vision’s website at ipswichvision.co.uk

Sue Wilcock