The cost of purchasing somewhere to live in Britain has so outstripped wages that it is the major driver of the country's economy. In a market economy the solution is to build more homes and this need is driving our planning system as well as our politicians as a general election looms into view. So Ipswich, like every other town in the UK, is bent on building dwellings. And understandably so.
Ten years ago the ill-fated East of England Regional Spatial Strategy was in the consultation stage; The Ipswich Society accepted that, in due course, the Borough would have to build on the green fields between the Henley and Westerfield Roads, north of Colchester Road. 3,500 new houses could be planned as a garden suburb with all the necessary infrastructure on the site.
Eight years ago, on behalf of the Ipswich Society, I spoke at the Examination in Public and suggested adopting a strategy whereby Ipswich should continue to use Brownfield sites and only then should we utilise Greenfield sites. At our then current rate of house building that would be about 2021. A recession, a complete change in our shopping habits and a fall in house completions has confirmed what we said then, only more so.
I now believe this proposed development is the wrong one in the wrong place at the wrong time. We need residential developments, yes, but not in a place that is distant from jobs, that causes unsustainable traffic problems and overwhelms other infrastructure. The change in the last decade in the way we live, work, shop and travel tells us that creating a new suburb will be seen as the height of folly in fifty years' time. In Ipswich we have many acres of Brownfield sites, never going to be used for the employment or retail use they are now zoned for. It is thought that there are more than fifty extant planning permissions in the waterfront area upon which not a sod has been turned. They are close to, if not in the town centre with most of the required infrastructure in place.
We should return to the concept of town centre living; daily shopping and schools close at hand so people walk and cycle thus solving at least four problems at one blow (less CO2 emission, better air quality, more exercise, and more social interaction). The insoluble part of the solution is that 90% of the land is privately owned and its profitable development is essential for the owners' survival but also for our private pensions.
This personal view is utopian. In the real world, the 'Ipswich Garden Suburb', proclaimed by the Borough Council and supported by the Society, could never be a true garden suburb as in the early twentieth century model since their land was owned by autonomous development corporations and not private developers. Here, the Borough has behaved with courage, decency and injected some money into the concept. They employed a Senior Planner, Phil Sweet, to work solely on the scheme and hired David Lock Associates, an excellent and respected firm of large scale town planning. Public consultations were carried out and a Northern Fringe Community Steering Panel formed consisting of the landowners, the town planning consultants, the Borough Council Planning Department, Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Councillors, the Ipswich Society, the Northern Fringe Protection Group, Save our Suffolk Country Spaces, Westerfield Parish Council and others. The purpose of the Group was to hammer out a Special Planning Development (SPD) document containing a Design Guide. This document will largely have the agreement of all parties and will eventually be ratified by the full Ipswich Borough Council. It will contain the plan for the dwellings, their numbers, sizes, shapes, gardens and parking. It will describe the roads and the entrances and exits, the schools, the medical services, libraries and community halls. It will deal with water supplies and drainage of different types of waste. It will also lay down the principles of the architectural design of all the buildings.
Thus we will have in the near future a blueprint on how the inevitable Northern Fringe Development will work. But somebody will always jump the gun; Mersea Homes have hired CBRE, the largest global property developer to push forward; in turn they have used the very town planners that IBC have used to draw up the master plan, David Lock Associates. And this some months before the SPD and its design guide have been agreed. There is now no way that The Ipswich Garden Suburb development will not be built in some form and at some time.