The Executive members have been extremely busy over the past three months, engaged on a variety of fronts in respect of the town and its future direction, including meeting with councillors and officers of the Borough, discussing and commenting on the Cornhill proposals and on the Supplementary Planning Document for the Northern Fringe.
On the subject of planning, I sometimes despair as to where the Government is leading us in respect of planning legislation. I still cannot believe that the fifty-two pages of the National Planning Policy Framework will successfully and comprehensively replace the thousand-plus pages of well tried and tested legislation developed since 1947. Constant reassurance from ministers since March 2012 that there is nothing new in the Framework, it merely compacts previous legislation into a readable and understandable format goes some way to pacify sceptics.
It is legislation introduced since 2012 that gives much greater cause for concern including the stupid directive that barns in rural England can be converted into homes without planning permission. At least Nick Bowles, the Planning Minister came to his senses during a recent debate in Parliament when he announced that National Parks would be exempt from this loophole. It does however highlight the confusion in the Government's planning policies and a need for clarity. We need more houses and we need affordable homes in rural areas. There are many barns and similar buildings that have no aesthetic quality or historical value, including some that are simply an eyesore. If the rural economy is to thrive then planners need to demonstrate a willingness to be flexible and sensible, but there must be scrutiny of the proposal.
Tesco's avowed intention of taking trade from the twenty-plus Co-operative stores in Ipswich is working with the recent converted Emperor Inn in Norwich Road having a devastating effect on the adjacent East of England store four doors away. Tesco's convenience store in the Heathlands public house is but yards away from the Foxhall Road Co-op and the conversion of the Racecourse pub in Nacton Road into a Tesco has taken trade from Queensway Co-op. We should also be aware of 'One Stop': Tesco's alternative format which is also putting pressure on nearby rivals.
You will read elsewhere in this Newsletter of a meeting between the Executive and Mark Hunter of Ipswich Borough Council, the officer charged with leading the Cornhill project. One of the drivers for the changes to the Cornhill was to provide level access into the ground floor of the Town Hall, which should lead to an increase in the number of visitors into the building. It is generally agreed, and here I don't wish to upset either Suffolk Craft Society or the Community Cafe, that the best way to increase numbers is to find a suitable use for the building, a use that makes the most of its considerable assets.
To this end I agreed to ask Ipswich Society members to report on alternative uses for Victorian Town Halls elsewhere in this country. Next time you are out and about - in Burnley, Bolton, Blackpool or Belfast or any other provincial town - investigate to what use they have put the Town Hall, and let me know, particularly if it is novel and different. The speaker at our forthcoming Annual General Meeting at UCS Waterfront building on April 30: Richard Lister, Provost of UCS and a member of the Cornhill judging panel, will provide an update on the proposals immediately after the formal business of the evening.
Finally a big thankyou to Pat Grimwade who will be stepping down from the Ipswich Society Executive at our AGM, not retiring but taking on a new role as Chairman of Ipswich Orchestral Society (founded in 1902). We wish Pat and the Orchestral Society well and sincerely say 'thank you' for the contribution she has made to this organisation over the past decade.
John Norman, Chairman