At 2.30pm on 10 November I was due to meet James Hehir, Chief Executive of Ipswich Borough Council, one of the regular meetings we held on a one-to-one basis. At about 11.30am that day I received a message that the meeting had had to be cancelled - James had died that morning.
I was immensely shocked. Over the years he had become a true friend. In the following days tributes poured in from all quarters, and on 24 November was held his memorial service at St Mary le Tower with a video link to the Corn Exchange for the large overflow. James did an enormous amount for Ipswich over twenty years and, although the Society didn't always see eye to eye with the Borough, on many projects he worked with and supported the Society. He is sorely missed.
One project he was heavily involved in was to provide a memorial for Ipswich's famous son, Cardinal Wolsey. Interviews will have taken place to decide the successful applicant to execute the work, and with this the fund raising to achieve the £100,000 will commence in earnest. The site will be either outside St Peter's Church or at the bottom of Silent Street and it should be a great adornment to the town. Visitors from abroad are often amazed that Ipswich has nothing (apart from the old Gateway) to mark this illustrious son.
Also happening at the moment is a scheme to re-position the Giles statue in a re-modelled Giles Circus. Public consultation will have taken place over different models to do this and they mark a big improvement on the present situation. Quality paving, trees and seating will all be provided.
I have written before about the celebrations for our 50th anniversary and a list of events appears in this Newsletter, but one I wish to mention here is our History. The idea of commissioning a History of the Society was mooted several years ago and preliminary work was begun. We are now well advanced and are confident of publication in our birthday year. It should be of interest to all members and others.
Planning applications and developments continue apace, and there are a number of very important sites currently in the news. The Tesco proposal for Grafton Way is still on the table and generating much heat about its impact on the town. The Ipswich School application has been withdrawn at the moment but their proposals have re-opened discussion about the development of what has become known as 'the Northern Fringe'.
All of this has been opened up a by a major change in planning procedures proposed by the Government, reviewing the use of land and housing throughout the country. This has involved the Executive Committee, and particularly its Planning Officer Mike Cook, in an enormous amount of work. We have made a number of comments but the over-arching one is that a proper infrastructure, including transport and all services, must be made before development is authorised.
Discussions about the organisation to replace the defunct Civic Trust are continuing. It is good that proper time is taken to consult so that the new structure is to everybody's satisfaction, but one unwelcome proposal has been a substantial increase in affiliation fees. Should this occur The Ipswich Society would have no choice but to increase our subscription fees, which have not been changed for many years.