In 1991 the then owners of the Cox Lane car park were granted planning permission to build a 55,000 square metre shopping centre with a 9,250 square metre minimum department store, space for a 120 stall market, some housing, an 1,100 space car park and a heritage museum with public open space; three years later, no sod having been turned, they were applying for a 120 stall market place; nothing has come to fruition in the ensuing twenty years.
In 2007 Ipswich Borough Council, realising that their Civic Centre was no longer fit for purpose and that rehabilitation for a second thirty years would not be cost effective, decided to move to a lease-hold office block in Russell Road. They sold the building and the site to a developer (Turnstone). The company demolished it floor by floor and applied to redevelop it as a shopping centre having an anchor store with a total of 15,248 square metres, together with eleven houses and an extension to the New Wolsey Theatre. The permission has never been granted and the site remains empty five years later, presumably because of other retail developments proposed or opened in the Greater Ipswich district.
At the same time, Tesco applied to build a large store, 12,000 square metres, 60% devoted to food and 40% to comparison shopping. In addition, there would be two hotels of 255 beds, 116 residential units of various sizes, 25% affordable, a further twelve retail units, a car park for 600+ free spaces. After much opposition from Ipswich Central (the organisation representing town centre businesses) and The Ipswich Society, permission was granted by the Committee on the Chairman's casting vote. Various difficulties then arose over land ownership, traffic management and the depressing economic environment. Tesco's less than satisfactory recent financial results led to a second application in August 2012 for a 9,422 square metres retail food store on one floor, two hotels and fourteen four-bedroom terraced houses. Nine months of procrastination over this second proposal and they have now announced that they will not, after all, occupy the premises but will develop the site for another retailer to use. However, at the time of writing (end of May 2013), there has been no planning application hearing or alteration to the existing proposals. Thus we remain in limbo as to what will happen. Ipswich now has three large sites, undeveloped, all suitable for large scale town centre shopping with room for a reasonably large department store; in addition, the town centre - like the rest of the developed world - is no longer the desired shopping destination. Meanwhile, the Local Planning Authorities have allowed a large out of town retail park at Crane's, now Futura, anchored by the UK's most loved retailer, the John Lewis Partnership, and permitted Next and Marks & Spencer to expand at Martlesham Heath.
So if you're one of the 30% of Ipswich households without a car you can take an X5 bus to Waitrose or a 66 to the big new Next and M & S. Or you don't and you do it online. No wonder ten out of twelve of Mary Portas' high streets continue to die.