I listed in the last Newsletter a number of waterfront redevelopment schemes that were adding value to their location because of a Visitor Attraction - Swansea with the National Waterfront Museum and Salford with the Lowry and Imperial War Museum. But before holding these up as examples of urban regeneration it is worth bearing in mind that even in these towns the residential flats are suffering from poor sales in much the same way as all new housing developments. However, because of the vibrant community at ground level the occupancy rate of the soaring tower blocks is less noticeable. This is not the case in Liverpool Leeds or in Hartlepool where unfinished towers blight the skyline.
So did Ipswich get it wrong? Did we build, or start to build, too many flats? Clearly the developers didn't think so or they wouldn't have speculated substantial sums without an expected return. To understand why we have so many unfinished or unoccupied units it is necessary to think back to the (relative) boom of the first half of the noughties.
Demand was high, in particular from three groups of potential purchasers. Professional people were claiming good salaries and it was worth commuting if they lived within a reasonable distance from the station. Secondly, with the high incidence of divorce, one of the partners needed a smaller pad away from the family home. Thirdly, the number of students enrolling for university was rising rapidly. They needed accommodation and although the majority didn't take the high rent Waterfront apartments, they did take the bottom end of the market pushing others further up the housing ladder. Ipswich also attracted a fair number of retirees, probably because of the adjacent marina and the safe sailing offered by the Orwell and the Walton backwaters. Neither Leeds nor Liverpool has quite the same attractions.
It is easy to suggest that what we actually need now is family houses with gardens, but the individual developers don't have the choice. If they own a piece of Waterfront they will want to develop it and get the return on their investment. In Ipswich there is a dire shortage of green space on which to build family homes; hence the reason the developers are falling over themselves to persuade the Inspector that developing the Northern Fringe is essential.
There are two further points to this story. One is that the developers still think that the Waterfront is a good place to build and two schemes are about to get under way; one is 'Over Stoke' on the site of Grahams, the plumbers' merchants in Great Whip Street (Stoke Quay frontage), which is a predominantly sheltered housing scheme but with 2½ storey family houses in an extension to Bulstrode Street (into the middle of the site). The second scheme is the old BOCM offices and car parks in between Salthouse Street, Slade Street and Fore Street (surrounding the Jewish cemetery) - a scheme of mainly student accommodation (because it's not on the Waterfront?). The second point is that the two successful schemes I opened this article with. in Swansea and Salford, are anchored by retail developments. Perhaps Tesco will provide the impetus to re-start Regatta Quay and complete the fitting out of The Mill. Perhaps?