Changes > Upheavals
The Newsletter has frequently commented on the many changes taking place in Ipswich. But most of the big changes have occurred around the Wet Dock and "Ipswich Village" near Portman Road so that the town centre hasn't been hugely affected. We've been able to take an interest in a relatively detached way. Not so now. 2004 has started with upheavals, perhaps to an unprecedented degree. The fact that some of these upheavals are not immediate doesn't do much to lessen the concern. The thoughts which follow are Personal ones, not the Society's, although the Society will be contacting various authorities on some of these matters.
Demolish the Civic Centre?
It's been well advertised that £13m would be needed to make safe and refurbish the Civic Centre. I don't dislike the building as much as many people, including the Chief Executive, are said to do: there are uglier ones in the town. Even so, it's a shameful comment on 1960s architecture and construction techniques that such an important building, has such a limited lifespan. Demolishing it is therefore understandable, and so is selling the site. Persistent rumour has it that Waitrose could be interested. The Council's reported wish to move to Russell Road would make it conveniently close to the new County Council HQ - especially if local govemment were reorganised - but it would be essential, as is being suggested, to re-locate to the Town Hall and some of the suburbs those services which need to be visited the most.
Disposal of the Corn Exchange?
In early March as I write, we have leaks and IBC comments on leaks. And many promises of consultation, which I hope mean what they say. One can sympathise with a Council which has a relatively low Council Tax income, and which has provided arts entertainment for the whole catchment area with little or no financial help from our wealthier neighbouring District Councils or from the County Council. Perhaps, therefore, the Borough Council is being persuaded that they must choose between keeping the Regent or the Corn Exchange.
My layman's view is that the Council's Arts Strategy should be completed, which would then enable applications to be made for external sources of funding to improve and modernise the Regent. With the Regent in a fit state, it would surely be an attractive proposition for commercial management as the major theatre in East Anglia. Otherwise to favour the Regent and to close the Corn Exchange without pursuing every other possible source of funding would be deplorable in my opinion. For the last thirty years the Corn Exchange has provided a venue for a huge variety of community activities - all kinds of music. exhibitions, conferences, meetings. For most local orchestras and choirs the Grand Hall is the best venue in the area, the Regent being too big. The Corn Exchange complements the Regent. To dispose of this centrally located asset would be akin to the 1980s nationwide rush to sell off school playing fields which is now seen as an irrevocable mistake. A region like ours, with an increasing population and a great many cultural activities needs both venues.
Would the Film Theatre go, as well as the Corn Exchange?
It's worth remembering that Ipswich Film Theatre is one of only three such cinemas in the whole of East Anglia. The others are Cinema City in Norwich and the Arts Picture House in Cambridge - that is, one for each of the three core counties of East Anglia. It screens almost every worthy film to be released in Britain, over 220 different films a year, three-quarters of which wouldn't come to Suffolk otherwise. Without it, there would not be the chance to see most foreign films, many independent American and British films and revivals of the classics. The Film Theatre is also used for many other events such as the Ipswich Film Society's shows, Hindi films, other film shows for specialist groups and Ipswich Arts Association's Town Lectures. The British Federation of Film Societies held its Autumn Viewing Sessions here last November and visitors from around the country envied what we have in Ipswich.
If it ever became unavoidable to close the Film Theatre at the Corn Exchange then, at the very least, alternative and better facilities should be created. It's too valuable to lose.
In short, the varied fare at the Com Exchange/Film Theatre helps to make Ipswich an attractive town to live in - and to move to, if you are a professional person or if you want to re-locate a business. Quality of life and economic well-being go together.
And more upheavals
These range from grim, to sad, to promising. The threatened closure of five sub-post offices in the town is grim, especially for elderly people. Just before going to press came the news of the end of Martin & Newby's in June, which many members of this Society will regret since they often refer to this venerable shop as one of the best things in town. Then there are the changes in railway ownership, which may bring some benefits and some losses (see page 7). There is also consternation caused by the proposed enlargement of the market. The redevelopment of Cranfield's mills should enhance the variety of use on the Waterfront, although making all of the arts space available to Dance East is not the range of appeal which had been expected. A little further afield, the £300m development at Great Blakenham, Snoasis (see page 12) will be another huge change and Ipswich itself should benefit from the extrajobs on offer, although the traffic generated will complicate matters on the A14 and thereabouts. However - leaving the best news till last - the prospects of creating a university in Ipswich are wholly welcome.
If you live in a part of the world where there are political, religious or geological upheavals, all the above concerns would seem trivial. Even so, it doesn't feel trivial if you've lived most of your life in Ipswich and care greatly about the well-being of the town! Several of these changes, whether you think they are good or not so good, are of course beyond the influence of any individual. But in matters for which Ipswich Borough Council is responsible it is surely up to all interested townspeople to express their opinions and help to shape the best outcomes for the future.
Please send me all material for the next Newsletter by 20 May. Once again, the more the better.