Why the Enlargement of Ipswich Didn't Happen
Peter Odell updates his Millennium Symposium Paper "Ipswich's 20th Century Challenges and Responses"
After 30 years of statutory secrecy the Government's files on the expansion of Ipswich under the New Towns Act of 1965 have been opened for public inspection in the National Archives (formerly known as the Public Record Office). And what a massive collection of letters, minutes of meetings, reports, comments on proposals, records of dissent and decisions etc they are - emanating from the Cabinet Off-ice, the Treasury and four or more Departments of State.
In my presentation at the Ipswich Society Symposium (published in the book Ipswich From the First to the Third Millennium) I argued that the agricultural lobby was responsible for preventing Ipswich's designation as a New Town; this was robustly challenged. The voluminous files I have examined show that my arguments were valid in large part, but that another - and more powerful - force finally inhibited the expansion proposed.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) files include a personal letter from the Chairman of the Suffolk Agricultural Executive to Mr Fred Peart, the Minister of Agriculture.
"I feel so strongly about the proposals that I think I am justified in drawing your attention to the matter and in pointing out the extremely serious view which farmers and landowners would take should the proposals be accepted." (ref. MAF/264/2: 15.10.66)
A few weeks later a Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG) official summarised the situation as follows:
"Ipswich's expansion is accepted by everyone except MAF .... It dislikes the proposals very much and the NFU and the Country Landowners Association also strongly oppose it." (ref HLG/ 115/653 : 19.12.66)
He went on to propose the near-future draft designation of Ipswich New Town, but this was not effected as it became clear that "the Minister of Agriculture will fight against designation in the Cabinet...as a test case for avoiding use of good agricultural land." (ref. HLG/1 14/14: 20.7.67) There then followed another year of in-fighting between the government departments (MAF, MHLG, Board of Trade, Ministry of Planning, etc) until a draft designation was finally made in February 1968, prior to a local planning inquiry in June 1968. Much to the consternation of the MHLG, this produced only a reluctant "go ahead" for an expansion over a much reduced area given "the weight of the agricultural objection" and in spite of the East Anglian Economic Council's plea for an approval of the original scheme as "planning policy for the region is based on Ipswich's expansion." (ref. HLG 115/705: 5.5.69)
By this time four years had passed since the initial proposal and a frustrated N4HLG considered abandoning the scheme because "agricultural interests are implacably opposed to it and are likely to cause maximum trouble." (ref: HLG 148/14) The Minister, however, with the backing of the Minister of Planning insisted that the proposal must go ahead as "a withdrawal at this I lth hour from amoral commitment requires overwhelming justification." This, he went onto observe, "does not exist as East Anglia badly needs an injection of this kind." (ref: ibid)
At this late stage, given the resolution of the economic and planning ministries and given that Ipswich's expansion was now to be limited to a significantly reduced area of agricultural land, the Minister of Agriculture finally withdrew his objection. Approval for the Ipswich New Town at long last seemed to be a formality. The delay generated by agricultural interests now, however, proved to be the critical variable: the project had now been pushed "out of time" by recent events of national importance, viz. the devaluation of sterling in November 1967 and the consequential problems facing the country's economy.
Thus, on the advice of the Treasury, the Cabinet decided that the expansion of Ipswich should be abandoned "in light of the costs of the project to the national exchequer at a time of severe difficulties in Government finances." (ref. EP 69) Only if the expansion of Swindon, a relatively recent addition to the proposed New Towns, was curtailed, would the Treasury agree to finance Ipswich; and this was impossible as the Swindon expansion was already well under way. Ipswich did, indeed, lose out from the delays engendered by agricultural interests.
On 13 June 1969 the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced the demise of the Ipswich New Town proposal ; with a final irony, given the advice of the Treasury that the country could not afford it. His decision emerged, he said, from "the lack of justification for the designation of so large an area of high quality agricultural land." (ref. ibid) ! A politically less embarrassing reason, perhaps, than the admission of the parlous state of the Government's finances in a pre-election period?
PETER R ODELL
Editor: Peter Odell has provided these other references from papers in the National Archives
Ipswich - capital town/city?
A MHLG official, commenting on the expansion of Ipswich, said that the intention was to make Ipswich the regional capital of East Anglia. (ref. HLG/ 115/7051
Thirteen cities and towns attempted to persuade the University Grants Committee that they were suitable locations for the proposed new universities which the Government had decided to establish. Ipswich was not numbered amongst them, whilst Norwich "led the pack" in the competition based on the establishment of a Norwich University Promotion Board in April 1960. Both the East Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council offered Norwich an annual contribution to help finance its efforts! (UGC Memorandum to Dept of Education, March 1960)
Nothing new on the railways
This is a precursor to the contemporary plan to develop expanded railway freight facilities to serve the Ipswich and Felixstowe ports' traffic on a site between Bramford and Stowmarket: "In August 1967 British Rail wrote to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government re the expansion of Ipswich to say that its freight traffic centre for the Ipswich area would be moved to a site north of the disused Bramford station." (ref. HLG/1 16/354: 30.8.67)