Michael Loveday is an international authority on urban regeneration. He has worked in a number of European countries, is a board member of the English Historic Towns Forum, of which our Society is a member, and closer to home he is Chief Executive of the Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) based in Norwich.
I think his talk to the Society on 9 January was not only interesting but one of the most important we have heard in recent years. So much so that I ended up with seven pages of detailed notes. The best way to do justice to this mass of stimulating ideas is to set some of them out in almost note form.
One of the most crucial aspects of successful regeneration is to concentrate on what makes a town special and promote that as much as possible -- to avoid the increasingly common accusation that it is a 'clone town'.
Heritage buildings which do so much to make a town unique should not be just 'done up' and reserved in aspic but continuously maintained and used.
'Heritage' is not just to interest posh people, nor to promote social inclusion, nor sadly to please young people (so many of whom think it's uncool!) -- it is about driving the economy.
Visitors to the UK don't come for our beaches, but to see and experience our heritage.
The heritage aspects of a town need to be shaped up and made digestible. For example in Norwich their twelve best buildings are promoted as 'The Great and The Good', their 32 medieval churches are the 'String of Pearls'.
The public realm of streets and squares should look pleasant and be used creatively. For example a road might be closed for a special occasion or for other purposes. Traffic signs and paving should be subject to joined up planning and not look like the results of different authorities' work.
Theatres, cinemas, the football ground are all part of a town's appeal. Blue Plaques, too!
Heritage Open Days can play a big part in appreciating and promoting one's town.
Making the most of one's town is a "serious business so get business people onto it". (We could have said that the Ipswich Business Improvement Districts scheme, BIDS, is doing so.)
Mr Loveday ended by suggesting one could ask if a town is getting better. The answer is NO if transport is poor, heritage is seen as "pepper potting" and things are done to people rather that getting them involved. The answer is YES if the town emphasises its uniqueness while learning from good practice elsewhere, sees preservation as a positive good, is community based and will take risks.
In Town with Michael Loveday
Earlier in the day before his evening talk, some of our Executive Committee members met Mr Loveday at the station and with him walked along Princes Street, then via Queen Street, St Nicholas and St Peter's Streets to the Waterfront for lunch. In the afternoon we returned to the town centre via Fore Street.
It was fascinating to hear the reactions of an experienced town planner who hadn't visited Ipswich for a few years. Impressed by the developing Waterfront, he nevertheless noted how it still seems detached from the centre by Star Lane in particular. His ideal solution would have been to sink the road level by 'cut and cover' methods, partly paying for it by selling off the land recovered for surface use (although the major sewer put in when Star Lane was created in its present form makes this almost impossible).
But unprompted, he thought Star Lane should be widened and made two-way, with Key Street and College Street used for public transport (i.e. what the Ipswich consultants had recommended). He saw the need for Princes Street to be more pedestrian friendly, especially for visitors arriving by rail and being confronted by the maze of underpasses at Civic Drive. He noted some of the town's independent shops but felt it would be very desirable to have a lot more, the troublesome Mint Quarter being a possible location.
We enjoyed our walks. It's often enlightening to view one's home town through a visitor's eyes even visitors without the background that Mr Loveday has. Many thanks to him for the whole day.