At the beginning of 2021 I was wondering if there would be any  shops left at all in the town centre when lockdown ceased. I had visions of a ghost town. After four months without going into town at all, I was pleasantly surprised to find that no more shops had gone in the meantime. We knew Debenhams and TopShop were on the way out but other than that the rest seem to have hung on, so far. People have also returned in their droves to the town centre.

The last three months have seen a succession of new independents gradually springing up, filling the gaps. Still a few spaces remain, but things are moving in the right direction. So, we may currently have eight phone shops in Tavern Street but they won't all be there forever – better than eight empty units. Shops are constantly changing and always have done. I'd far rather see a unit with lights on with people in it and being used, even a phone shop, rather than a row of shops like that of Poundworld when it closed and was left as a boarded up and unloved eyesore in Tavern Street for nearly three years. Most of us only use a small percentage of the shops and businesses in any town we visit anyway, walking past the majority of them, but they all add to the ambiance and hustle and bustle of the town whatever they are and someone uses them – otherwise they would not survive.

Let me list just a few of the shops and businesses which have already opened or are opening in Ipswich this year. There are many others if you search around. 

Photo: Microshops, Carr Street

FOX AND BRAMBLE baby boutique opened in St. Peters Street as well as BRIDES OF ST PETER'S wedding dress shop, the BLITZ 1940s Tearooms and BLACKTHORN Beauty and Piercing. BEX BAIT AND TACKLE opened in Upper Orwell Street,  WILDGOOSE Fine Foods opened in St. Stephens Lane. THE COFFEE CELL opened in Northgate Street and PIZZA NAPOO PASTA is moving into the former Vietnamese restaurant, nearly opposite, very soon. MICROSHOPS market is moving into the former Peacocks in Carr Street and further along WAFFLE AND MORE is moving into the former Superdrug unit. 

FONE TECH has filled Kiko Milano and ‘A PHONE SHOP’ has filled Whittards in Tavern Street.  THE MOLOKO Cocktail Bar and Tapas Restaurant has opened in Lion Street in the former empty Aqua Eight restaurant. Round the corner on Cornhill THE BOTANIST Restaurant, part of a popular chain, is expected to open in the former Post Office around September time.

Photo: Honey & Harvey café in Queen Street 

In Giles Circus the popular HONEY & HARVEY patisserie and café found in Melton and Woodbridge also hopes to open in the former and, for a long time, empty Mambos unit in August whilst further down Queen Street KARE PLUS has moved across the road filling the empty Lady Norfolk and Lord Rust unit whilst the JOSEPH Property Agency has filled the space they left behind. SOURDOUGH STREET has opened on Lloyds Avenue where Pizza Express closed and, just out of town in Cardinal Park, DOUGH & CO is getting ready to open in the former Frankie & Benny’s.

FIREAWAY AUTHENTIC PIZZA is soon to open in the former Jennings Bet, once a Pizza Hut site in Upper Brook Street. Just along from there LOCKHART LEISURE games and toys has submitted a planning application for the former Age UK Suffolk unit. IBC is in advanced talks with a restaurant operation to take over the former Little Waitrose unit in the Corn Exchange, although nothing is signed yet. BELFAST BEDS, who own the unit, have filled the empty Bon Marché shop in Westgate Street with their own shop.

The TURKS HEAD gastro pub at Hasketon near Woodbridge is reported to have bought the empty ZIZZI restaurant in St. Nicholas Street to turn into a restaurant and bar. Further out the empty church on Key Street known as QUAY PLACE has signed a lease for the RIVER CHURCH to move in. THE GALLERY Lounge Bar Cocktail and Tapas is opening in the former John Russell Art Gallery in Wherry Lane. JUMP has opened in the empty Bounce unit in the Anglia Retail Park. The NEW OASIS LOUNGE bar is planned on Albion Wharf in the former Anytime Fitness. There is currently much local opposition on this for fear of noise and late night drinking. Ipswich Debenhams has been bought by the UNEX GROUP estate investors based near Newmarket. 

Marks & Spencer has just announced there will shortly be another 30 store closures. The group currently has 254 full-line stores, which sell food and clothing, but it plans to reduce this to around 180 over the next 10 years, with some of these being replaced by food-only or purely clothing and home sites. On the positive side Phase 2 of the work on the former BHS site is reported to be starting soon where, we believe, SPORTS DIRECT, GAME, FLANNELS, USC and JACK WILLS are expected to open in one form or other and there is mention of, perhaps, a restaurant or café.  Staff in Game said realistically this will not be complete until late this year or even early next year. The BUTTERMARKET Shopping Centre restructure will resume soon which will include a modernised entrance from Butter Market.

Construction has continued in Ipswich with the ‘BLUE LIGHT HUB’ progressing in the Fire Station on Princes Street where the town Police Station will also be sited in the enlarged complex with an Ambulance ‘call out’ unit as well.  Close by, plans for a 99-room Travelodge just off Russell Road next to Endeavour House (SCC) have been submitted by the Essex-based developers Burney Group. It is intended to start construction by the autumn of this year, and should open 12 months later. The Burney Group also said it has plans to submit a second application to re-clad and modernise the existing retail warehouse buildings, formerly Office Outlet and Better Gym, as well as subdividing the space to create up to five modern units.







Photo: the proposed school on the Co-op store site.

Proposals continue to demolish the former Co-op department store in Carr Street and replace it with a school for 420 students. Ipswich Society Chairman, John Norman, said: ‘That is quite a big site. We want to see a school there – but if they cannot make it work with the existing building, there is plenty of other space on the old garden centre site and part of Cox Lane. The proposal to demolish the locally listed former department store, a building that is culturally important in the social history of Ipswich as an industrial town is unnecessary, especially as the proposed replacement isn't architecturally outstanding.’

A clean-up of the former Burtons building on St. Peters Wharf removing pigeon droppings is under way so that, once finished, surveyors can prepare plans for redevelopment of the site. Plans have been submitted to turn HAVEN HOUSE office block (formerly occupied by HM Revenue & Customs) in Lower Brook Street into 75 flats.

Photos: new housing visual in Handford Road

THE NEW WOLSEY THEATRE slowly keeps adding to its improvements! With the concourse and ‘NW2’ Pavilion completed as well as improvements inside the theatre, work is now in progress adding a ‘sail’ canopy over the front entrance terrace. Work is going full speed ahead now that Gipping construction have demolished the former BT building facing Handford Road to make space for 13 terraced town houses.  The remaining office block behind is to be converted into 74 residential apartments and a mix of 16 detached, semis and terraced town houses with gardens and two parking spaces each are planned for the former BT staff car park site.

The HOPE CHURCH conversion of the old Odeon Cinema into not only a church but a conference, meetings and community venue with public café – has continued. John Norman had a tour over the site and was very impressed with the conference facilities for hire in the building with a huge auditorium where two of the former cinema screens have been knocked together.  Several ‘break-out’ areas are also included in the mix.

Plans are being made to turn ST CLEMENTS CHURCH into a music venue. Work is progressing to re-clad ST FRANCIS TOWER which is currently surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting. Now work to replace it is finally under way; the building’s owner, managing agents, and those doing the work remain tight-lipped on the value of the project, as a legal battle rumbles on over who pays for the repairs. 

Work is in progress building 16 one-bed and 28 two-bed flats on a site beside Duke Street just along from Tesco. Around 15 of those will be designated as affordable housing.

Tim Leggett

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