There have been several important planning applications and issues recently despite the economic recession. Here is a summary of some of these matters, the first one being of paramount importance because of its potential impact on the town centre.
Tesco, Grafton Way: The not quite final verdict on this saga which started in September 2008 was given at the Planning and Development Committee on Wednesday, 3 March 2010 when, amidst scenes of near farce, the application was given approval by seven votes to six. It's not quite final because, under the rules of the Shopping Directions, a new retail scheme of this size has to be referred to the Government for the East of England ( GO- East) for final approval which is normally granted if the proper procedures have been complied with.
To re-cap: Tesco wish to build a two-level convenience and comparison store with car parks above and below for 700 cars, 125 apartments (25% affordable) and two hotels on the old B&Q site and the lower railway yard in Grafton Way (Commercial Road) stretching between Stoke and Princes Street bridges. The design is beginning to look good but is eight storeys high and is going to change the Ipswich scene over-dramatically.
The Council's own retail consultants' report estimates that the town centre would only lose trade from between 2% and 10% depending on speciality. The sceptical view of that estimate expressed by Ipswich Central, the organisation representing over 700 of the town centre's businesses, was dismissed as exaggerated.
It is agreed that this is not a town centre development. The idea that people will park at Tesco free for three hours, walk to the town centre and then do their supermarket food shopping on the way back is surely fanciful. Planning policies require that town centres be protected. Suitable sites close to the centre are sequentially analysed to ensure that they are suitable and available. Sadly, the Mint Quarter is neither. The Westgate (Civic Centre) is at present too small and the car parking inappropriate, but we were assured by Turnstone (the potential developers here) that letters of intent from Hanover Housing and the Police Authority showed that it would be possible to build a store as large with good parking on this site. However, this was dismissed as being not immediately available.
I (Mike Cook) spoke mostly about the traffic but additionally about the architecture and the size as well as the public realm. Everybody agrees it will produce a big increase in car traffic. 1600 vehicle movements in the peak hours will bring big queues stretching back to Staples and lengthening in every other direction. Despite widening the Novotel roundabout to one large three-lane gyratory, with traffic lights integrated with the proposed pan-Ipswich traffic control scheme, increased congestion will result. It is hoped, but not yet agreed, that Tesco will contribute substantially to this scheme. Amazingly the Head of Highways at Suffolk County Council, Dave Watson, professed to be unaware that the car parking would be free. Only when the condition, inserted at the last minute, that the car parking would be managed was the recommendation carried.
It must be said that the architecture itself is now looking pretty fine (and has CABE's guarded approval) and that it will bring regeneration of a critical site close to the Waterfront together with car parking spaces needed for the area. However, in our view it will be the death knell for the undeveloped sites in the town centre and the town centre as a whole. It will create traffic stagnation in south central Ipswich to which there are no solutions. Everything points to a big change for the worse in Ipswich.
The Mill (formerly the Cranfields site on the Waterfront): The central portion of this development is on hold until economic conditions improve. Meanwhile to protect the Edwardian structures it will be wrapped in plastic with huge illustrations of the Waterfront.
Arcade Street: Approval granted to demolish the building on the north side next to the County Court. The proposed building for apartments is modern in tone and acceptable.
Hayhill Allotments: IBC has approved a modified scheme (no high apartment block and a small reduction in housing units) for the remainder of the site. Its architectural style is 'traditional' as described by the developers, Crest Nicolson. There are ongoing discussions concerning affordable housing.
6 Tuddenham Road: Despite winning approval for a single house, the site owner has come back to propose two detached semi-bungalows whilst preserving the important tree. We consider this over-development.
Fire Station, Colchester Road: As the Fire Service becomes more a rescue service and fire prevention body it feels its fire stations are inappropriate. It is therefore intending to move to Ransomes Estate (a utilitarian shed of no merit) and to sell Colchester Road station. It will retain Princes Street. Colchester Road is strictly speaking not zoned but presumed to be for residential. There is a rumour that Waitrose is interested. If this were to come about it might bring delight to some members of The Society but it would have a very serious meaning for the future of the town centre. The loss of such an attraction as a Waitrose would make it much more difficult to open the Westgate Centre (Civic Centre site) or the Mint Quarter. It would also make traffic on Colchester/Valley Road even worse.
St Peter's Quay: IBC are proposing improvements with paving, coach and car parking, pedestrian routes, trees and planters. It can only be an improvement on the current area.
St Mary at Quay: East Suffolk MIND has submitted a well thought out application for its conversion of the church to a centre for helping those with mental health problems. The many repairs to the main fabric would be carried out, a new floor inserted with a mezzanine floor in the south aisle and an extension to the south churchyard. The architects are a London firm with good ecclesiastical experience. The application is prior to Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage bids.
Great White Horse: It has lain largely empty for some years and the hotel and its roof are in poor condition despite planning permission to convert the ground floor to retail. Cotswold applied to use the remaining ground floor and part of the first floor (the ballroom) as a shop. There are no proposals for the hotel portion. Whilst all would like to see a boutique hotel use, it is unlikely since there is no car parking. A good shop would sharpen up that end of the street. The advertising proposals are excessive and will be objected to.
Shed 8, Orwell Quay (the big site on the east side of the dock south of Neptune Marina): Another proposal has been put in by the developers, London & Provincial, using the same Liverpool architects, KDP. It consists of three buildings containing a 90 bed hotel, a health club, 200 residential units (25% affordable), retail units and underground car parking. It's of strikingly modern 'kinetic' forms, with ship references in shape. If it were built (and it would be expensive) it would be an exciting addition to the dock area. CABE apparently approve.
Foundation Street and Rosemary Lane: Another proposal to convert MIND's current HQ in a Georgian Grade II Listed house to a dementia care home and to build a 28 bedded annexe in the garden. We have no objection to change of use or the new building in principle, but its exterior design is an unthinking box totally unsuited to the site, or indeed anywhere.
St George's House, St Matthew's Street: the Society found the amended planning application to be a considerable improvement. It is approved by IBC.
More on the Tesco Debate
On Wednesday, 3 March, I sat through four hours of debate, argument and counter-point of view. I listened intently to the proposals for and against a new Tesco superstore for Grafton Way, just outside Ipswich town centre. Key members of the Ipswich Society Executive had spent 18 months reviewing the extensive range of papers that had been drip fed on to Ipswich Borough Council's web site, trying to understand the changes that had been proposed and implemented and had, as would be expected for a planning application of this magnitude, written letters with comment and objection.
There was an incredible alliance of objectors, independent shopkeepers and town centre businesses. I clearly have a biased opinion but I felt the arguments against the development, and thus for the preservation of the town centre, were much more logical and came across with greater passion than those for investment by the retailer. ..... However, it wasn't until we were reaching the conclusion of the debate that a stunning revelation was made by the officer from Suffolk County Council; they hadn't understood the free parking scenario. Clearly this would change the dynamics of vehicle movement around the town. Drivers in much greater numbers than SCC had estimated would make for Grafton Way for their first choice of car park; traffic loads on the Novotel roundabout and other road junctions would lead to considerable queuing, delay and gridlock. And so to the vote. Despite the earlier promise that the planning Committee never took the whip, it was along party lines ..... [And approved by 7 votes to 6.]
Another new Tesco for Ipswich, so close to the town centre it is bound to have an effect on the viability of the existing retail offer. Because Tesco offer such a wide variety of goods in their Extra stores (60% convenience, i.e. food) and 40% comparison (clothing, electrical, beauty products, toys, sports goods, etc) it means that any possibility of another department store in Ipswich has been seriously reduced. I cannot see any benefit that this store will bring to Ipswich or its residents; it is simply another enormous Tesco.