'Developments of Ipswich during the Period 1974-2007' - this was the title of the talk given after the AGM by Mike Smith, former Head of Planning and Development at the Borough Council, someone who won the respect of all members of the Society's planning committee during those years. Virtually every important aspect of planning and development was covered in his illustrated talk.
He began with recalling his first impressions in 1974, especially the waste land along the river corridor, now being gradually developed. One of the most interesting parts of the talk concerned the Belstead Road/Stoke Park area because this was fairly new to members who don't live there. The planners' insistence on keeping and creating green spaces is now pleasantly apparent in this naturally undulating area. But he pointed out that the relatively low density would not be permitted by today's higher density requirements. Housing today is much more likely to consist of three-storey town houses and four-storey flats. And here the planners have to fight hard for the provision of children's play areas which developers aren't so keen on!
In town centre redevelopments Mike expressed satisfaction with some of the fill-in changes, notably two examples in Museum Street and the appearance of the office building next to the Sailor's Rest in St Peter's Street. He is less happy about the mass of Crown House in Crown Street which the planners found hard to refuse.
Some important older buildings have been effectively retained. The Philips and Piper building in Old Foundry Road/St Margaret's Street was not Listed and could have been lost, but it defines the character of the area and with better management now by a housing association provides valuable accommodation and a reminder of our manufacturing industry. The Grimwade Hall in Fore Street, so recently refurbished (with 'perhaps the most complex new brickwork in Ipswich since the Victorians, thanks to Polish craftsmen!') is another example of a worthy rescue.
Waterfront projects still owe much, he thought, to the owners of Contship whose passion for modernising their building set the standard for what could be done at the docks. Difficult decisions had to be made over the isolated early developments there - for example Neptune Marina flats did look oddly tall but the new UCS building bridges the gap and the heights are appropriate. If there is a pause now in starting new developments on the Waterfront that may not be a bad thing. There would be time for all concerned to evaluate what is needed next.
Ravenswood has posed different problems, not having hills or trees like Stoke Park (it was an airport after all!) so he welcomed the creation of a strong layout design from the start with a green and some radiating avenues. The architecture has been mostly pastiche in style but it has enabled the 'affordable' houses to be visually similar to the private. There are some sections of Ravenswood in a more modern idiom but, as he said, 'volume housebuilders' are so much more comfortable building in traditional styles.
Looking ahead, he recognised that Britain is entering a difficult time. Redevelopment of the Mint Quarter is essential for Ipswich to keep pace with competitors, Norwich and Colchester. He is satisfied that the concentration of tall buildings on the Waterfront is suitable for the area and relates well to the expanse of water. But he hoped that the Island Site facing it would be a substantially green area. As for our Society, he thought that it was essential for us to keep up a watchdog role - politicians respond to pressure, and if we don't exert it others will!
Members who stayed on enjoyed some drinks, nibbles and discussion. The Society thanks Ipswich School, particularly Andrew Gregory, for making the premises available.