The first winter lecture could hardly have been more important. William Coe (Chairman) and Paul Clement (Executive Director) came to speak about Ipswich Central and their BID. On that evening of 12 October they weren't certain they would have a future, but writing this in November I am pleased to say that the 700 Ipswich shops and businesses in the town centre voted them a clear majority to continue for the next five years. Let me explain.
Actually, William Coe did the explaining. Town centre management used to be a local government matter. A forward looking Borough Council appointed John Field as Town Centre Manager, only the seventh such appointment in the country. But subsequently local authorities handed over the work to businesses themselves - in our case Ipswich Central, which has put in a bid for a BID! A BID is a Business Improvement District, originally an American concept to counteract all the factors in society today which militate against town centres. A BID works like this. In a chosen geographical area. a majority of businesses need to support the BID and pay their contributions according to size, but within a structure which prevents the big firms from dominating policy. Ipswich's BID was the 30th in the UK and there are now over 120 in the country.
Paul Clement emphasised the necessity for such pro active business involvement. As he put it, the .elite' town centres will continue to prosper, but many others will be 'relegated'. Ipswich is in .the mass in the middle" and could go up or down. "Towns need to re- invent themselves, because today.s consumers are in control and many won't go to town if it's to visit the same old shops." People are looking for a more satisfying, rounded experience. He argued the case for some re-shaping of the town centre, essentially to link the present centre with the Waterfront and therefore changing the emphasis from the present east-west axis (the "golden mile") to a north-south axis (town centre to Waterfront). Re-development of the present East Anglian Daily Times site in Lower Brook Street will provide opportunities for this link - although the Old Cattle Market bus station is inconveniently situated and would eventually need re- locating.
Promoting the town to potential new businesses is crucial. Most investment will have to come from the private sector and nobody can make them do that. And encouraging companies to set up here is not simple; some know little about our town. One possible decision maker was asked what he thought Ipswich was best known for. Racking his brains he ventured that it was our castle~
A few specifics from the lecture. The Town Rangers employed by Ipswich Central are well liked by businesses and apart from providing information to shoppers they have helped to reduce shop lifting. Improved lighting in Giles Circus and Dial Lane should improve the appeal of these areas. Our Christmas lights are outdated; new ones are planned for next year. The successful BID would bring in an additional £3.5m to use over five years.
In answers to questions, the speakers wanted to limit parking costs; regretted the loss of Bury Road P&R: had new ideas for' softening' the effect of the Star Lane traffic 'barrier'; and hoped more houses of "an executive type" would bring more spending power into town.
Because of out-of-town and internet shopping, town centres will sink or swim. Messrs Coe and Clement are great assets to Ipswich and are determined that we shall swim.