As a regional centre and the county town of Suffolk, Ipswich plays an important role in the future growth of the East of England as an economic hub for business, a destination for visitors and as a place to live, work and study.
Our Chief Executive, Paul Clement, delves into the enormous potential in the town has and explains how the Ipswich Town Deal could help unlock that potential.
Ipswich is one of England’s oldest towns and hundreds of listed buildings serve as a permanent reminder of its proud history. Yet, whilst it embraces its past, including as the birthplace of Thomas Wolsey, it has become one of the most exciting places in Britain. From a rich legacy of artistic innovation, the town has become an exciting centre for culture and the arts and now has one of the highest concentrations of organisations receiving regular Arts Council funding. It is also a creative hub, sitting within a golden triangle that connects leading global centres of research and development (Cambridge and BT Martlesham) with the world’s capital of finance (London).
If one thing symbolises Ipswich’s connection to a proud past and an exciting future, it is its stunning waterfront development. The very foundation of the town was as a port and a gateway to the world. Today, the marina area is a centre for learning for the University of Suffolk, a place of leisure with hotels, bars and restaurants, and high-quality urban living area with apartments overlooking hundreds of boats and yachts berthed in the waters below and with views of the picturesque River Orwell.
The Ipswich Vision was created in 2015 in response to the needs of Ipswich and rapid changes to urban centres across the world. Ipswich, once dominated by retail businesses, had not adapted quickly enough and had failed to keep up with the pace of change elsewhere. The ambition of the Vision has been to redevelop, regenerate, reimagine and reconnect the central area with the marina, and so create ‘East Anglia’s Waterfront Town Centre’. It has embraced change by remodelling a town centre “…around linkages between the park, the railway station, the marina, and the commercial heart. The ambition is for a more compact, useable, liveable, vibrant and differentiated town centre for everyone; a place that is proud of its maritime history, celebrates its exceptional leisure and cultural offer, is open to innovative ideas and technologies, and which, through a people-centric approach, constantly stimulates new and exciting social experiences…”.
Now, our Ipswich Town Deal plans will enable a number of the key Vision projects to be delivered sooner than would, otherwise, have been possible. The package of targeted interventions will bring about rapid transformation and result in a “…better town centre where more and more people choose to spend more and more time…”. This ‘better town centre’ will embrace new trends, kick-start a new wave of regeneration, provide opportunities to enhance skills and health provision, enliven key areas, and help to make central Ipswich a more attractive destination for local people, together with those in Suffolk and from beyond the county boundary.
We plan for a number of important buildings and sites to be redeveloped and remodelled. The St Peter’s Port entrance to the waterfront will be reconfigured to include redevelopment of the former Paul’s silo building, realignment of pedestrian routes and creation of a new public space; the former Post Office building will be restored and re-opened as a quality restaurant and bar; and a number of important Public Spaces will be improved including Arras Square, Lloyds Avenue and Major’s Corner, each with new public art installations installed.
Beyond these, a new, dynamic Ipswich Town Centre Revival Fund will respond to opportunities to stimulate new developments within the town centre. Initially, these might include the creation of new housing and the provision of local amenities such as a Health and Well-Being Clinic; a 6-day a week Foodhall, complementing the existing street market, will sell fresh Suffolk-grown produce and allow space for a café and restaurant utilising the same products; and a town centre Live Venue will further strengthen the town’s cultural offer by offering live music and comedy performances. In addition, we plan to invest in improvements to a number of Local Shopping Parades and facilities which will become ever more important as employment patterns increasingly involve both home and the office working.
Preparing a future workforce with the skills relevant to both the town and to a fast-changing world is vital. We will deliver a new Integrated Care Academy as a centre of excellence for integrating health and social care practices, improving productivity, driving innovation and increasing skills by training 200 nurses, 20 physiotherapists and 50 paramedics each year; a new Technology and Sustainability Academy will offer a wide range of digital and technical courses; and a leading Maritime Academy, in partnership with Spirit Yachts, will provide qualifications to the next generation of Ipswich boatbuilders. A new Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge will, for the first time, enable a circular route around the marina, thereby linking these new educational facilities with the wider waterfront offer. The Bridge will be a celebration of Suffolk’s best-known musician (Ed Sheeran) and serve as an inspiration for future generations who will be reminded of the potential for linking individual creativity with ambition.
The town centre experience will be enhanced with more things to attract people and more for visitors to do. A Lighting and Sound system will help to bring buildings to life whilst providing for more outside events and shows; and a new Green Trail will link the waterfront to the town centre and help to encourage more walking and cycling whilst opening up new, green spaces along the way. The overall offer will be brought together and promoted by the creation of a seamless Digital Town Centre utilising free public wi-fi and 4G/5G technology. Prior to visiting customers will have access to on-line information and the ability to make reservations and pre-book tickets and venues. When in town, the platform will link seamlessly to provide locational information, in-store loyalty programmes, ‘try-before-you-buy’ shopping experiences, a host of digital walking trails and augmented reality experiences. The platform will link to digital screens throughout the town centre, including a giant screen for multi-use purposes including screenings, presentations, events and promotions.
Digital Ipswich will also specifically address particular concerns amongst young people for whom the town centre may appear unwelcoming, even unsafe. The project will be designed to provide young people (99% of whom use smart devices) with a network of safe and appealing places to visit in both the day and evening economies (including those nearest to them if, at any time, they feel vulnerable), opportunities (via VR and AR) to learn more about the history and importance of Ipswich, and a digital hub to provide them with a safe place to meet.
Our Ipswich Town Deal, as part of the broader Vision project, has the potential to be transformational for Suffolk’s county town. Over 5-years it will bring buildings and much valued locations back to life, provide training and skills for the next generation, widen opportunities for young people, broaden appeal with more things to do, and embrace new technologies. It will increase town centre living, employment and skills and help to improve people’s health and well-being. As a result, Ipswich will benefit from a more compact town centre that is used more intensively and thought of as a place of both opportunity and experience.