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Ipswich re-opens

June 14, 2020 8:31 PM
By Oliver Holmes

Most shops selling non-essential items in Ipswich plan to re-open tomorrow and retailers have spent many days preparing new layouts to comply with social distancing regulations. Ipswich Borough Council, together with Ipswich Central and Ipswich Vision, have also worked hard to make sure shoppers can access shops while still staying safe. Streets have been closed to traffic and pavements marked. IBC toilet blocks are being opened but many shop cloakrooms will remain shut. Parking will be free at the Crown Car Park.

Longer term, the Pandemic will inevitably mean many retail businesses will not survive and this was acknowledged at the Open House Forum Archant organised last week. Interestingly, retail owners and managers think it might be the smaller independents, in places like The Saints, who are the most resilient. Unfortunately, longer term, shop closures of up to 30% of the total are not thought too pessimistic.

Ipswich town centre did not, before the lockdown, have as many shuttered shops as many similar towns in the UK, which is contrary to what many residents believe. The Centre for Cities also has data that shows that by May of the lockdown, footfall went down to 27% of the normal level, which was still far higher than Norwich. Putting aside the disastrous decisions the Johnson government has made in managing the pandemic, all residents must hope the town centre recovers
as quickly as possible.

Longer term, retail in Ipswich will shrink considerably with planners already recognising that Westgate Street and Carr Street will need to be re-purposed with residential use the most likely. The danger here is that unsuitable blocks will be cheaply converted into small flats under permitted development rights. Also, Ipswich still has too many vacant sites left over from the 2008 banking crash which remain financially unviable. These problems can only be fixed by central government spending. Councils simply do not have the funds and private developers cannot or will not self fund or get finance. The Future High Streets Fund seems to be allocated for blue-wall areas in the North and Midlands. It remains to be seen if the town will get any funding from the £25 million fund cynically announced by the housing and local government minister shortly before the 2019 general election.

Cllr. Oliver Holmes believes that funding will be key to any successful reimagining of the town centre but also says: "Ipswich needs to be able to step in and drive change in the town as the banking crash shows that it might be decades before schemes will be viable for private developers. Compulsory purchase seems to be the way forward and rather than provide large grants to the private sector, we, the residents of Ipswich, should be enabled and funded to shape the future of our town centre."

Oliver Holmes in town centre