If the Northern Fringe of Ipswich is to be built on eventually, what should it look like? I was pleased to see that both Ben Gummer MP and Paul Geater, Ipswich Star s political reporter, recommended that those responsible should be prepared to learn about aspects of urban design from best practice on the European mainland.
The Ipswich Society's many visits to the mainland in the 1980s and 90s were at least partly motivated by our wish to learn - which we did in all the countries visited. We heard about the problems of urban planning in a city where its most famous building is Charlemagne's 8th century Palatine Chapel, now part of the cathedral (Aachen). We observed how an underground car park could be built underneath a city centre square (Ghent). We appreciated the aim of ' social housing' in-fill to bring life back to the city centre (Antwerp). We saw the value of retaining the facades of typical old buildings with new build going on behind. and this in a city starting to re-invent itself (Lille). And we learned about constructing a completely new town on land reclaimed from the sea (Almere, near Amsterdam).
But we were only interested lay observers with no influence. The people who ought to go and learn now are the big housing developers and their architects and planners. They initiate and make the major decisions about urban designs which local planners must respond to. The British house-building industry has much to be proud of. I'm sure - but I'm equally sure it is an industry which tends to be complacent and insular.