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'We must not delay. We must kick-start this.'

Our CEO, Paul Clement's, latest Archant business column, following from our call for more empty units in the town centre to be converted into housing:

At Ipswich Central, we have been calling for a dramatic and accelerated programme of residential development in what most people would think of as our retail core.

A recent report from Centre for Cities provides useful evidence to support the case. It shows Ipswich as a place with amongst the lowest growth in housing stock and, because of this, low rates of population growth. Factors of supply and demand has meant that a shortage in housing growth has pushed prices upwards; yet, we remain one of the most competitively priced locations within the London commuter belt.

Suffolk’s wonderful countryside can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand we have one of the lowest CO2 emission rates in the country; on the other, we have a natural ‘no-go zone’ when it comes to new house building within the surrounding green belt.

Ipswich Central’s proposals are for partners to agree upon an ambitious target for repurposing redundant retail floorspace into town centre living. But we go much further than other towns and cities by suggesting that we must not restrict plans to upper floor conversions only by encouraging the conversion of ground floors as well. After all, many former shop units were first created from houses left vacant by people moving outwards.

Now that the trend is to move back into town and city centres, we have a golden opportunity to return them to their original status to meet demand. We only think it would be odd to see someone’s house between shops on the high street because it hasn’t been the recent trend; trust me, it will be in the future and so we may as well get ahead.

If we can dramatically increase town living – not just by the creation of new flats on the waterfront, but by producing a fully diverse housing stock in the very centre, provided by funding from the public and the private sectors – it will deliver untold benefits to our town centre. A new resident population will stimulate demand for other new uses such as doctors and dentists which will occupy other vacant space. Businesses will open and expand in an area where new staff are ‘on their doorstep’. We will stimulate new evening activities, reduce car journeys and improve feelings of safety in a town centre with a 24-hour economy.

In their 2015 report, experts at Aecom told us that every 2,000 additional homes would generate over £180 million of capital investment and add £8 million a year to the town centre economy. Furthermore, for the retail sector alone, it would increase turnover by £1.5 million which, in turn, would create 7 new jobs a year.

We must not delay; we simply must kick-start this.

Paul Clement, CEO of Ipswich Central

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