Before you read this article, a few facts and figures may help to put things into perspective. Marks & Spencer's Westgate Street store is 1,250 sq m with a turnover of £13 million. Tesco Copdock is 8,800 sq m with a turnover estimated at £110 million. Spenhill's application on behalf of Tesco, Grafton Way is for a store in excess of 12,000 sq m (with an additional 6,000 sq m of hotel, leisure and retail space).
Spenhill Regeneration, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tesco's, has, after consultation with stakeholders and the public, applied to build a Tesco Extra, two hotels, a health club and 149 apartments on the site of the old B&Q, its car park, the Carpet and Fabric warehouse and the old railway yard. It stretches from the river in the south to Grafton Way in the north and from Stoke Bridge in the east to Princes Street Bridge in the west, except for the retail business units by Princes Street Bridge.
- The store would be 50% larger than Tesco's at Copdock - in effect a department store on two floors with car parking underneath and on the roof.
- There would be two hotels.
- The apartments would be 83 market duplexes and 29 'affordable' units on one floor. There is provision for leisure in the form of a health club.
- There would be 749 car parking spaces.
Tesco argues that the retail scene in the town centre is failing in the Council's aims to become a high class shopping destination because it has no central Ipswich superstore to attract shoppers for their main food shop and because the rising population due to the Waterfront regeneration will support an enormous convenience store which would be in the top one hundred Tesco's by size in the UK. Tesco and their agents do not appear to have done a fresh survey to support this contention, relying on a DTZ retail survey of2005 which was based on a mere 200 interviews, representing less than 1 % of the catchment population of 185,000. They themselves admit it is inadequate. They also say that sequential analysis of the other large sites (the Mint Quarter, Crown Street and the Civic Centre) reveals none to be suitable. Some of their arguments are dubious. We do not feel that there is a proven or provable need for such a large store in central Ipswich.
The Ipswich Society will oppose the application on a number of grounds (see below) but objections to the retailing proposals should be the prerogative of those who better understand the impact such a store would have on town centre shopping. This could of course be you, and the greater number of independent objections the planning committee receive the greater their rationale for refusal.
There has been some public acceptance of the proposals not only in the provision of a major superstore within the heart of Ipswich (one of the justifications in the application is a reduction in travel distances for shopping) but also because of the lack of alternative uses for this derelict site. But the opinion of The Ipswich Society is that although Tesco will provide employment, housing and other developments it will be at the expense of the retail offer in the town centre. In our opinion the number of jobs lost as businesses close would exceed the number of jobs promised by the developer. It would also make unviable the development of the Mint Quarter and the Civic Centre site.
The design of the development is open to considerable criticism.
- The only entrance is by car from Grafton Way.
- Its appearance from the town centre would be largely of blank walls and a car park.
- It only gives lip service to a linear riverside park, barely fulfilling the demands of the Environment Agency for access to the river.
- Because the Environment Agency will not as yet permit any building that does not fulfil current flood strategies (rather than what will be the case assuming the flood barrier is in operation by 20 12) the developers would be forced to build a utilitarian 300m long concrete box containing a pedestrian escape route from the site to Princes Street Bridge.
This large site is currently zoned for mixed use development. The Society suggested that the site should have a linear park on the river bank with wide cycle and pedestrian ways. This would be backed by low-rise housing and a retail park.
In summary, the Society is extremely concerned about this proposed development and will be resisting it strongly throughout a struggle which may well last for many months if not years. We believe that before permission is granted there should be the following:
- A top grade architectural and town planning view from outside of Ipswich.
- A retail survey to show that such a development is necessary and that if in place it would not have a deleterious effect on shops in the town core.
- An independent traffic survey.
- Tight Section 106 requirements - after all, 12,000 sq m of store area at £8,000 pa per sq m would give a turnover of £96,000,000!
Mike Cook and John Norman