Following the brief AGM, the Director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, Simon Cairns, gave a very varied and well illustrated talk about the role of the SPS. He explained their long relationship with our Society because we have so many interests in common, as reflected in the SPS motto, 'Respecting the Past and Shaping the Future'.
Representing a county-wide organisation, Mr Cairns naturally reminded us of the rich variety of our large county with its 31 'landscape character areas', its villages and small towns, its coast (and coastal erosion). The aims of 'Suffolk Going for Growth' presents challenges to the SPS, some of them "alarming" -like new pylons (his bugbear!), wind turbines and possible large increases in housing, which even in the scaled down form now still amounts to 8000 more in the next fifteen years. Conserving the built environment will be even harder with cuts to councils' funds and to English Heritage, the demise of CABE, and fewer grants.
He explained how SPS could help in its work of responding to planning applications (as our Society does in Ipswich), providing design advice, promoting awareness of the special qualities of our county and arranging conferences and awards for excellence. In his view the greatest threat is complacency regarding the county's vulnerable landscape and the under-estimation of Suffolk's buildings - he thinks that some buildings officially Listed elsewhere could be quite ordinary here - and this applies also to the under-appreciation of our larger historic towns, certainly including Ipswich.
Mr Cairns had many complimentary comments to make about Ipswich but amused us first by describing the unfortunate impressions that a first time visiting motorist might have when driving into the town from the A14/A140. "Where is this town centre - here at Barrack Corner? Crown Street? Ah, here's High Street -this must be it? No, the next sign indicates Woodbridge. Have I missed it?" On the other hand, for the observant pedestrian, Ipswich is marvellous - a very walkable town centre ("not strung out like Norwich!") with a depth of urban heritage and quite different from Bury. And although a lot must have been lost in the 1960s, he thinks much of the new is very good. People in Suffolk who don't love Ipswich have views "not based on reality". SPS has arranged successful visits to Ipswich, fully booked and repeated. One of his final thoughts concerned the stalling of new developments, which he thinks may be no bad thing since too much was going on, too quickly. But he concluded that Ipswich has the right mix of old and new and will go on re-inventing itself.