When in 1970, the then Ipswich County Borough Council established a separate Town Planning Department under Geoffrey Ramsdale, I was appointed Principal Planning Officer heading up the Civic Design Division. One of the duties of the new division was responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the town's built heritage. I have been asked, four decades on, to provide a brief history of the initiatives introduced by the Council, during that period, to achieve these aims.
We quickly realised that the town's stock of historic buildings on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest was seriously inadequate and that the first step was to have it updated. As a result, the number of properties on the revised List was extensively increased when it appeared in 1972. This reassessment formed an important basis for the Council's future work on the environment.
The next step, in 1974, was to designate Conservation Areas, giving the Council the extra powers of protection needed to safeguard our heritage. This work started with the Town Centre. Two approaches were considered. The first was to simply draw a boundary around the whole of the established centre, including areas of lesser environmental quality; the second was to be more selective and draw a tighter boundary encompassing only those areas of high quality. Following advice from the then Department of the Environment, the Council opted for the second approach. Today there are fourteen designated Conservation Areas in Ipswich, including the Wet Dock and Christchurch Park.
In 1975, the Ipswich Conservation and Design Panel (initially the Ipswich Conservation Advisory Panel) was established by the Council to facilitate full local involvement in decisions affecting the town's historic areas. The then Chairman of The Ipswich Society, Peter Underwood, was invited to become Chairman of the Panel and this was a function he fulfilled admirably for 20 years. The Panel, comprising councillors, officers and representatives of local interest and professional groups, advises the Council on all matters affecting Listed buildings, Conservation Areas and, more recently, on a wide range of proposals throughout the town.
In 1977, the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust was set up by the Council with the provision of a long-term interest-free loan of £40,000 initially, and a second similar tranche a few years later. It operates on a 'revolving fund' basis, purchasing and renovating buildings in need, then re-selling them in their enhanced state to recoup the funding for further projects. So far it has saved nine important buildings which might otherwise have been lost or seriously damaged by neglect.
In 1979, the Council established the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust. Its object is the preservation and maintenance of the town's redundant historic churches. St Lawrence, St Peter, St Clement, St Stephen and St Nicholas were passed to the Council by the Church Commissioners for a nominal sum and then offered to the Trust on long leases. The Trust has financial assistance from the Borough Council, with grants from English Heritage.
This resume has concentrated upon five important early initiatives which together provided a firm base for the protection and enhancement of Ipswich's precious heritage. Many other initiatives, aimed at improving the environmental quality, particularly of our Conservation Areas, have since been introduced. These include the Positive Planning projects, pedestrian priority measures, environmental improvement schemes and removal of unsightly signs.
Finally, a conclusion which I feel should be drawn from the last 40 years experience, is that the environment of Ipswich has benefited greatly from the close co-operation which exists between the Council and the voluntary sector within our community.
John Field, Urban Planner and Landscape Architect, Chairman of the Ipswich Conservation and Design Panel