Given the amount of controversy and range of opinion expressed about the Ipswich Cornhill and plans for a £3.3 million makeover in recent months, a group from The Ipswich Society Executive Committee met Mark Hunter (Building & Design Services Manager for Ipswich Borough Council) at the end of February. Mark is the IBC officer in charge of the Cornhill project and he was able to put us in the picture on its progress.
1. Who is driving this project?
The panel is composed of Ipswich Borough Council (David Ellesmere, Leader of the council and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Ipswich seat), Suffolk County Council (Lucy Robinson, Director of Economy, Skills and Environment), University College Suffolk (Richard Lister, Provost and Chief Executive of UCS) and Ipswich Central (Paul Clement, Chief Executive) who are the funding partners. Initial stages of the project and judging of entries from architectural practices were chaired by Sir Stuart Rose, whose criticisms of our town were publicised at the time that he delivered a speech to a Beacon town conference in September 2012. Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich also sits on the panel. IBC officers such as Gail Broom, Conservation Officer, and Mark Hunter himself are advisers to the panel.
2. How much has it cost so far?
£30,000 was available to fund the design competition for Cornhill Regeneration; six architectural practices originally entered and each practice received £6,000. The Design Contract has been awarded to the winning practice.
3. What is the next step?
Mark Hunter has been charged with writing a Cornhill Project Report to the Project Board. One important feature to come out of this informal meeting with him was that the town centre, in the shape of a reworked Cornhill, would not be the only part of the report (this is to be confirmed). Given the ancient street layout which has been largely maintained in Ipswich, a wider view of the town could take in:-
(a) a southern gateway (Stoke Bridge, the river and Wet Dock, St Peter's on the Waterfront) and the way in which this might be linked with the centre via St Peter's, St Nicholas and Queen Streets, given the barrier of heavy traffic in College Street and Star Lane;
(b) a northern gateway (a hopefully developed and improved 'Cultural Quarter' around the Ipswich Museum) and the ways in which this might be linked with the centre, perhaps via High Street and Museum and Westgate Streets, given the barrier of heavy traffic in Crown Street.
4. Once this report is written and delivered, a funding strategy is required, which will probably take the rest of 2014.
5. The selected architectural practice will be given the go-ahead to work up full designs once funding has been sought. The final design is not in place yet, but changes will not be radically different from the winning concept.
6. If funding cannot be found would another scheme be considered?
Probably not, as the decision driving this is that the present Cornhill 'is not working' and that just repaving it 'won't solve it'. Level access to the Town Hall is seen as a key factor. The function of the Town Hall needs to be determined, given that most administrative staff work from Grafton House. Mark is fully aware that Ipswich Town Hall remains an issue, an asset not being fully utilised. One possibility is that The Ipswich Society could survey other grand Town Hall buildings across the land and establish their alternative uses, which work and which do not, which attract footfall and which make money (see the Chairman's remarks on page 4).
7. Will there be consultation with other bodies and the people of Ipswich?
Yes, full consultation so that societies and individuals can express opinions. The overall impression from the meeting is that there is a very long way to go in the process.
Our thanks to Mark Hunter for giving us his time and answering our questions so fully.