It is disappointing to reflect on the long running saga of Ipswich’s Cornhill.  You may recall that things started back in September 2012 (seven years ago) when Sir Stuart Rose the former chief executive of Marks & Spencer described the town as a ‘barren wasteland’ and ‘the most depressing place I have ever seen’. 

At the same conference he suggested that he could ‘sort things out with an expenditure of just £200,000, small things, a few trees, more benches, more going on and more covered areas in case it’s raining’.

The Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council put their heads together and before the conference was over they had announced that there would be an architectural competition to redesign the Cornhill.  Getting from there to where we are now is a saga in itself, involving two completely different designs, a tower twice the height of Grimwade’s as the focal point (rejected), the ‘Cornhenge’ polished concrete standing stones (demolished) and a recognition of the historical great and the good of Ipswich (just seven names).

I understand that there has been a considerable number of reportable incidents.  Thus, some thirteen months after completion, the steps are being rebuilt which this time will include tactile paving and visible nosings.  If these steps had been constructed inside a public building the Building Regulations would apply and these features would have been essential.

When changes to the Cornhill were first mooted there was, understandably, disquiet amongst the market traders they were losing the best trading position in the town.  Most resigned themselves to their new location and tried their best to make it work.  What they can’t understand now is why the occasional visiting trader is allowed to set up a stall on the Cornhill, providing it is under the banner Farmers Market / Christmas Market / French Market.

Needless to say, Stuart Rose’s original estimate £200,000 was a wild guess that was nowhere near the £4+ million that the project actually cost, and this latter figure doesn’t include the extras – demolishing Cornhenge or rebuilding the steps.

Today there are a similar number of trees, perhaps a few less benches and nowhere new ‘under cover’.  As we suggested before it all began, the town’s main square will attract everybody’s attention and we need to get it right first time, and see value for our money.  I’m not sure we’re there yet.

As we move into the Society’s 60th anniversary year I would like to say ‘thank you’ to Graham Smith who has been Treasurer of the Society for the best part of the decade.  As well as keeping our finances in order, Graham has ensured that our claim under the complicated and exacting rules of Gift Aid has enabled the Society to recover a substantial sum.

Graham has also made a significant contribution to the highly complex issues of GDPR (Data Protection) and similar legal requirements.  Graham will continue to be a Trustee of the Society and a valued member of the Executive Committee.

John Norman