The development of Ipswich Waterfront over the last decade has been one of the most successful brownfield regeneration stories in the UK. Elsewhere in the town centre new development has been far more limited. This has been attributed to the availability of too many rather than too few development opportunities and the pursuit of traditional covered mall shopping centre development which may now be seen to be an outmoded approach. Ipswich Central, Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council have adopted a Vision for the future direction of the town centre combining the Waterfront and the existing town centre by enhancing the north south linkages between the two zones. To this end Ipswich Central has undertaken a review of development and investment opportunities in the central area and suggested appropriate and alternative uses for each. This report summarises the findings and is intended to generate consultation.
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Located at the extreme western limit of the shopping area this hoarded up 3 acre site used to house the 15 storey Civic Centre complex. Following demolition only the underground car park remains in use. Planning permission has been granted for over 10,000 sq m of shopping but no occupiers have been prepared to commit ahead of construction. Adjoining buildings occupied by the Courts and Constabulary are being vacated and could form part of a larger site. Given the ‘off pitch’ retail location, this site may also provide an opportunity for a comprehensive in town residential redevelopment extending Southwards.
Princes Street Office Corridor
Princes Street forms an important north–south route into the town centre from Ipswich Station located on the south bank of the river. For half a century it has been dominated by large corporate office blocks notably the world famous black glass Willis ‘Piano’ building. Many of the buildings are of dated 1960s design and construction and are now in advanced stages of disrepair. Ipswich Borough Council owns many of the plots and thus there is an opportunity to comprehensively regenerate this important gateway area with high quality offices combined with shop, café or other active ground floor frontages.
The historic central meeting place of the town and the confluence of several important routes, this Square has not received any significant investment for a quarter of a century. A major refurbishment and reconfiguration might rejuvenate not only the Square but also surrounding retail streets such as Lloyds Avenue and Queen Street and act as a starting/destination point for north-south pedestrian movement between the town centre and the Waterfront. Initiatives might include relocating the existing part time market from the centre of the Square to simultaneously release the main space for other purposes and providing north-south impetus.
Buttermarket Shopping Centre
Located just to the south of the prime retail pitch, this centre was originally constructed to a high specification but trading has suffered from the closure of the anchor department store. A planning permission has been granted to change the use of the department store and upper floor retail units to allow redevelopment for a multi-screen cinema with adjoining cafes and restaurants. The owners should be supported in their proposals as the project will form an important gateway southward from the retail core and a complimentary leisure attraction to the north for visitors to the Waterfront.
St Nicholas Street and its southern continuation, St Peters Street, form
a direct north–south route from the town centre to the western end of the Waterfront. Both streets have a higher than usual proportion of attractive medieval buildings interspersed with a number of large offices. Over the last decade most of these buildings have been occupied by independent retailers and restaurants who have collaborated to create a distinct neighbourhood identity of brightly painted frontages, high quality signage and colourful displays. Street Markets have been successfully hosted on an ad-hoc basis presenting an opportunity to consolidate the importance of this thoroughfare by purchasing market stalls to be deployed at minimal cost on a more frequent basis.
Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre
Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre forms a north-south covered mall connecting the town centre bus station with the prime shopping streets. The centre was opened in the mid 1980s and has a dated feel. The anchor department store has been empty for some years. The centre has recently been purchased by one of the UKs largest pension fund managers and an opportunity exists to refurbish the mall, introduce new tenants to the anchor store and bolster the north–south link to the bus station which is undergoing refurbishment. A new image is required. Regeneration should additionally include proposals to rebuild the Crown Street multi storey car park. Enhanced north-south links through the bus station which is undergoing refurbishment could also extend the retail use.
Fronting a busy intersection anchoring the North Eastern edge of the town centre, the Ipswich Borough Council owned Regent Theatre has adjoining undeveloped land and its neighbour is the former Odeon Cinema which has been vacant for a number of years. The owners of the building are in administration and thus unlikely to fund a redevelopment or refurbishment. Therefore, an opportunity exists to bring the property within public sector ownership allowing a comprehensive redevelopment to expand the long established arts/cultural offer of this neighbourhood, creating a northern destination through Blackfriars for north–south pedestrian flows from the Waterfront and Education Quarter.
Tacket Street and Cox Lane
On the south–eastern fringe of the prime retail area a site of circa 2 acres comprising an NCP car Park and retail frontages to Carr Street and Upper Brook Street has been suggested as the location for a major regional covered shopping centre for over 30 years. However, successive property booms have not produced such a project and most recent trends in retailing indicate that such covered malls may prove even harder to fund in the future. Accordingly alternative development options providing the best solution for the town must be explored. These might include a more limited development of a small number of modern retail units fronting a short open mall linking Upper Brook Street and Carr Street combined with a modern mutli-storey car park on part and in-town residential development of the remainder.
Between the secondary retail zone of Carr Street/ Upper Brook Street and the Education Quarter at the Eastern end of the Waterfront is a mixed area of small independent traders centred around Fore Street. The area has some of the characteristics of the Saints but is presently less focussed or cohesive. The traders have formed a local support group and have recently commenced promotion of the area as ‘Blackfriars’. Support for this promotion will help embed this zone as a distinct neighbourhood and a stepping stone between the town centre and the Waterfront.
On the bank of the River Gipping, but to the west of the historic Waterfront, a cleared site formerly occupied by retail warehousing has been granted planning permission for a mixed use scheme predominantly occupied by a 9,000 sq m Tesco store but with two hotels and multi storey residential blocks in addition. Tesco have indicated their desire to dispose of the site rather than develop the permitted scheme. Alternative uses should be identified for the site most probably driven by greater emphasis on hotel and/or residential uses.
Despite the success of the Waterfront regeneration, the western end of the area, to the south of Lower Brook Street, is overshadowed by two vacant sites; part associated with the unfinished ‘Mill’ project and an additional area bounded by the busy gyratory road network. These sites also form an important component of any linkage between the Waterfront and the town centre. Proposals for new retail uses complimentary to the town centre, supported by leisure, residential and parking facilities should be brought forward.