High streets have always changed but today they are changing faster than ever and Ipswich is no exception. Shops are closing and towns everywhere are filling up with coffee shops, barber shops, nail bars, vape shops and gyms, cinemas and other activity venues. Charity shops were always there but have been become more central and conspicuous as sites become vacant. Shops move around and chain stores have been closing multiple units leaving one branch per town, but there are still new shops opening up.
Possibly the best news for Ipswich town centre in the last three months is the announcement that Sports Direct intend to move from Carr Street into the former BHS premises in Butter Market which have been empty since the chain crashed, leaving a big gap in the town centre. We are told this will also include new branches of the fashion stores Flannels and USC. All three brands are part of the group owned by retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley. USC used to occupy the site where Tiger is today.
Carr Street retail has been in decline ever since the Co-op Department Store closed, and only recently Orwell Butchers closed. Other stores have moved from Carr Street to more central sites including: Superdrug, Argos, Game and even The British Heart Foundation. Maplin crashed nationwide and Peacocks have had ‘closing down’ signs for many months, though staff seem to think that if they can find a suitable site they may also move closer to the town centre. This will leave very little worth having in Carr Street. B&M already have three other branches around Ipswich and are probably looking at the future of their Carr Street site. There are plans afoot to build a Primary School on the old Co-op site beyond Cox Lane and the buildings the town side of Cox Lane are being turned into residential apartments.
CAFES and RESTAURANTS
All over the country cafés and restaurants are filling the empty sites as town centres are edging more and more towards being social and activity areas as much as retail centres. Several new cafés have opened since the last Newsletter and more are in the pipeline. Such establishments include On the Huh in St Peters Street, Café 43 in Carr Street, The Bloom Lounge in Tacket Street, Combat 2 Coffee in Princes Street and Papaky in King Street. There have been reports of three other café/restaurants possibly opening in the near future including a 1940s-themed café in St Peters Street next to the former Rovian, Honey + Harvey in the former Mambos in Queen Street, possibly this summer, and hints that a pizza restaurant may be opening soon on the upper floor of the Buttermarket centre next to Cosy Club.
Above: Dial Lane Books, 8 Dial Lane
The most exciting newcomer is Dial Lane Books, an independent shop which opened on March 3 in a unit which has been empty for a long time, leaving Dial Lane full up. Although we have lost Burtons and Dorothy Perkins, as have many other towns, Deichmann shoes have taken over the site and hope to open this summer. The Thomas Cook group closed nationally last year and Hays Travel have moved into the building. Blue Inc in Sailmakers, which was closed for a year, has reopened after a take-over by a new company.
Sadly we have lost Whittards (Tavern Street), one of only four branches in East Anglia, Jessops (Butter Market) has also gone without warning and Paperchase (Tavern Street) has announced that it will be closing in April if suitable alternative premises cannot be found in the town. Staff understood that another shop is allegedly already lined up to move into the premises.
After a two year construction period the WINERACK apartments are complete which has included paving Albion Wharf to match the rest of the Waterfront. This is a huge step forward for the Waterfront regeneration (suspended after the global crash of 2007/8) with hopes that it will kick-start plans for the remaining part of the old Wet Dock.
THE HOLD (Suffolk Records Office) on the University Campus is progressing fast and expected to open in spring, possibly late May.
THEATRE SQUARE – this project, in front of the New Wolsey Theatre, is expected to be completed in May and includes a new pavilion rehearsal studio for the theatre as well as a complete refurbishment of the theatre concourse. The old and tired paving is being replaced with a resin surface and there will be new landscaping. We wait to see if the ‘virtually ever-dry’ fountain will be reinstated.
BROOMHILL POOL – this Heritage Lottery funded project is expected to move forward dramatically this year as tenders have gone out for the building work and trees have already been cut down in preparation before the nesting season starts. It is hoped the well-remembered lido will be open to the public once more in 2021.
CORNHILL – Snagging work has been in progress where more visible paving has been laid top and bottom of the steps. Work will start again at the end of March when new stone planters will be set into the paving replacing the plastic planters and the tapering step will go, being replaced with one large planter and seating. Additional handrails are being added in the middle of the steps and down the Town Hall steps. Work should be completed before the schools’ summer break.
WHERRY QUAY – This area has had temporary metal fencing near the Mariners floating restaurant for over a year where the quay has been crumbling. Divers are currently working from a diving platform alongside the quay. Work is expected to be completed by the end of March.
Above: Grimwade Street shops
GRIMADE STREET shops have been boarded up. Owned by IBC, the block is likely to be demolished and replaced by 16 new council flats.
PRINCES STREET – The former Botwoods, more recently a car wash, has recently been boarded up. IBC wants to borrow £7million to build a new 700 space multi-storey car park on the former Portman Road livestock market, demolish the old Botwoods and build a new hotel and restaurant on the site and that of the former Drum & Monkey pub.
GECKO – Now that Ipswich Borough Council own the major part of the St Peters Dock buildings, a new world-class facility for physical theatre company, Gecko, 14 new flats and a restaurant with striking views of Ipswich Waterfront are among major intentions for the derelict former Burton's factory site.
Exciting times ahead for Ipswich.