How do we save the former County Hall? What are we to do with the Tolly Cobbold Brewery? Will The Mill ever get a new overcoat? (replacement cladding for the original, partially blown off in the December 2013 gales) and will it ever be finished and occupied? Will Tacket Street car park ever get built on? Will the former Civic Centre site ever become a useful asset to the town? I suggest neither of the last two will ever be a retail centre, but is anyone brave enough to revalue the sites and build houses?
It is perfectly obvious that none of this is likely to happen any time soon and equally probable that it won't happen using local money. Who, in this impoverished corner of south east Suffolk, has the money, the wherewithal, or is prepared to take the risk? This is evidenced by the fact that for ten and more years there has been no serious move towards renovation, restoration or re-use of the larger buildings listed above.
I predict that as nobody locally will make the move, then we must attract investors and speculators from outside the area. Easy to say, but how do we achieve it? A solution: ‘inward investment'. The Ipswich Vision team believe that spending money (our money, local money) on the Cornhill will attract new shops, and therefore new shoppers into the town centre. If this is true then it should work elsewhere using the same principle.
Let us, therefore, take a leaf out of their book and create an impression of inward investment in whatever schemes are currently being proposed, and chief amongst them is the new Record Office for Suffolk County Council. You will probably know that such a facility is on the cards, The Hold, proposed for a site on the University campus. But what is proposed is a mundane series of boxes, an anywhere building without presence, panache or style. With acres of flat roof, miles of featureless walls, on a site that has no relationship with its surroundings, not even a master plan to explain how it will eventually contribute to the wider campus.
I am obviously disappointed with the scheme presented to the planners, which is a pity because the chosen architectural practice (Pringle Richards Sharratt) are usually very good. They have turned out some award-winning schemes elsewhere across the country. Why not in this case?
I suspect because what we have is a camel conceived by a committee. The new building needs to serve not only as the County Records Office, but also as the main lecture theatre and associated seminar rooms for the university; it needs a café and a shop, an exhibition space and a research room. Each body contributing financially (which includes the Heritage Lottery Fund) has been pulling at the concepts of the scheme to ensure that their needs are met.
It is likely that the architect has been working without a clear specification as to exactly what is the prime purpose of the building. The result is less than ideal: a compromise between requirements, single storey but with stairs and ramps, divisions within and between educational use and Records Office. And a name that is but ephemeral jargon which needs an explanation each time it is used.
Hold on*, could a new building of outstanding architectural quality kick start a wave of similar investment in Ipswich? Willis Faber and Dumas achieved it in the 1970s; there is nothing so sure that the present proposal won't! The new Records Office is a public building, to be constructed using public money; it should therefore set the standard we expect of all new development in the town. It should be an architectural icon, sending a clear message that we believe in Ipswich, the local councils believe in Ipswich and it is time to move forward. [*pun intended]