A tale of three cities
from John Ireland, Acting Chairman, River Action Group
May I add to Mark Ling's comparison of Ipswich, Cambridge and Norwich? Each town has a river running through the middle, but ours does not compare with the other two as favourably as we may hope it will do in the future.
Cambridge has the Cam with The Backs. Beautiful, but not a public thoroughfare, although accessible to the public by courtesy of the Colleges. There is an attractive riverside path below Magdalene Bridge with a pub and restaurant. Public boating is available.
In Norwich the Wensum has an attractive public riverside path right through the city centre, where there are plenty of places for refreshment. Boating, including boat hire, is available.
Ipswich has the Gipping across the road from the historic waterfront. The public footpath and cycleway beside the river links urban Ipswich with the countryside beyond. The path is attractive for much of the way, but there are pinch points. There is a pub, but (as yet) no public boating. Some areas suffer from littering, graffiti and other abuse.
If Ipswich's river is the poor relation it should be said that the Gipping started from a low base. The river and its corridor have been neglected since the closure of the navigation rights in the1930's, and it has taken the considerable efforts of IBC, Greenways and Sustrans, acting through the River Action Group over the past ten or fifteen years, to restore such amenities as we now have. The path is becoming a favoured commuting route to avoid busy streets, but of course there is much to do before our river scene can match those of Cambridge or Norwich as a tourist attraction. Be assured that the River Action Group is working on it.
from Trevor Hart, Saltaire, West Yorkshire.
Mark Ling's piece accompanying the last issue of the Newsletter arrived at an opportune time for me - I was about to pay my first visit to Ipswich town centre for about 15 years, and with sufficient time to explore it properly, so it provided something of a prompt for me to take a critical look, with the state of the town centre being something of a 'litmus test' for the wider range of matters Mark was considering. Of course, rather than being based on the same sort of objective information used by Mark, my verdict had a more impressionistic foundation, but this is what the 'interested visitor' would rely on: if the verdict was good, they may well return.
In my case, had I not got other reasons for returning - it's my home town and I still follow the football team (though more frequently at away grounds) - I don't think I would be putting it on my list of places to come back to in a hurry. Apart from the rather sad state of Carr Street and the adjoining end of Fore Street, the main centre looks nice enough but it is dominated by mid-range multiples: that doesn't quite make it one of the 'clone towns' disparaged by the New Economics Foundation, but what is on offer doesn't give a compelling reason to come to Ipswich rather than go elsewhere. Most of the 'individual' shops, which can add something distinctive to a town - research I've carried out in England's 200 or so smaller towns suggests that their 'differentiating' effect is a significant attractant - are clustered towards the dock area, along with many of the restaurants and wine bars, and rather detached from the retail core. Looking at the traders represented there, this was probably how they liked it, in the sense that the style of the core would do little for their prospects: however, the view of one was that very little, if any, of their trade came from Ipswich residents. This rather put me in mind of Liverpool, where the regeneration of the Albert Dock provided some additional character but which was not an integrated part of the city, spatially or culturally. The building of a new retail centre at Paradise Street (Liverpool One) provided a 'bridge' between this area and the main retail core, but this new space seems to have partly succeeded by sucking key retailers and life out of other parts of the city.
I believe that current plans for Ipswich see a need for more floorspace which, given that it has about twice the national average level of vacant floorspace at the present time, is a little worrying. The example of Liverpool is by no means the only such case of the success of additional development being accompanied by the emergence of a new 'declining' area in a town, and past experience with the 80+ untenanted units in Greyfriars should cause great caution when considering development proposals: after all, it is doubtful that the increased spending of the forecast growing population could support the quantity of floorspace that is currently vacant, never mind a significant addition. Clearly, some change is necessary if Ipswich is to raise its status, as the Strategic Perspectives study suggested was required, but my feeling was that this change should be qualitative rather than quantitative.
On a more positive note, I was greatly impressed by the condition of the bottom part of Fore Street - somewhere my mother considered 'dingy' even in the heyday of the town - and other buildings towards the dock area, where restoration and infill had made it an attractive area. And, to end on a statistical note, it is worth remembering that success can come with a sting in the tail, in the form of increasing property prices. Average prices in Norwich are 10% higher than Ipswich and those in Cambridge 130% higher - and 'forecast to rise even further' according to the Financial Times at the weekend I was visiting. House prices in Ipswich, viewed from the perspective of a resident of a northern town many times worse off than Ipswich in the deprivation stakes, currently seem reasonable.
April 22nd.2015 trip to Eltham Palace from Jean Smart
Just a word of appreciation to the organisers of Ipswich Society day excursions:-
I recently visited Eltham Palace with June Peck and 55 other members and we had the most marvellous day. Eltham Palace is an English Heritage property and one of the best kept secrets celebrating ancient history together with the Courtaulds' investment in style, panache and Art Deco; the property just oozes the ambience of the 1930s. If this trip runs again book your seat F-A-S-T, it's just a wonderful day out.