Walking through Ipswich the other day, I noticed some of the changes that are currently happening in the town, and thought my musings may provide some food for thought.
Public Spaces: The County Council is carrying out major road improvements, many in the Conservation Area. Some, such as St Margaret's Plain are nearly complete; others such as the Old Cattle Market and Princes Street are work in progress. The Ipswich Design and Conservation Panel were consulted on the schemes but owing to the nature of the funding some design has been done 'on the hoof' and the final project detail has left something to be desired. However, it is hoped that new quality materials, good workmanship and reduced clutter will improve the standard of the public realm and make these areas more pedestrian friendly.
The Highway Authority: The agency agreement whereby mc undertakes the role of Highway Authority in the town comes to an end in March and the role will revert to the County Council. The County is intending to work in partnership with May Gurney. These changes are of concern as existing Borough staff will move to the County from April and to the new contractor from October. The Design and Conservation Panel has had a good working relationship with the Borough engineers, and new partnerships will have to be forged. It is important that the Society continues to lobby for involvement as to how the public spaces of Ipswich are treated.
The Environment Agency: Development around the Waterfront is mostly at a standstill. The Environment Agency has directed that there shall be no residential development within the area liable to flooding. Developments already given consent have solved this problem by proposing either street level parking or new shop units. The former leads to a dull street scene and the latter is preferable as long as the shops are let and not left empty with estate agents' notices attached. This brings me to:
Vacant Shops: These are appearing all over the town centre, partly owing to the recession and partly because of increased internet shopping and out-of-town retail parks. Ipswich is not alone with this problem and solutions are not easy to find. The recession may lead to a fall in rental values and other uses may be attracted to take empty premises. Policies to encourage more residential use in the town centre could be a way forward. Notwithstanding the opinions of Sir Stuart Rose, I am firmly of the view that the market should remain on the Cornhill. It is the life blood of the town and attracts shoppers to use other services and shops at the same time. Whatever the solution, the physical fabric of the town relies on its economic vitality; the two are interdependent.
The Green Deal: This is a Government initiative to encourage people to better insulate their homes. One possible method to deal with properties with solid brick walls is to externally clad them with insulation which is then rendered. This will require ongoing maintenance. These properties are from housing stock constructed typically before World War I. The Green Deal, if taken up by owners of these houses, could lead to some strange sights in the Victorian areas of the town.
Conclusions: These are a rather disparate range of topics but they illustrate the importance of a strong and vocal Ipswich Society. The town has always been subject to change, but times have never been so challenging and vigilance is essential.