A crowded public gallery was present in Grafton House for the meeting of the Planning and Development Committee on the last day of May. There was a packed agenda and for the first time under this particular chairman, a split decision (on an infill plot in Rosehill Road).
Most of the public were there for the application by Ipswich Sports Club to build houses on the old hockey pitch; the developer spoke reminding the committee of the planning directive for more homes as a priority. Two objectors repeated the same message as had been conveyed in 100 individual letters but the scheme was carried.
The application for improvements to the Cornhill was comprehensively presented by the Chief Planning Officer. He was followed by John Norman who took the opportunity to point out the potential pitfalls of the scheme. There were two immediate difficulties with the Society's position:-
i) The Ipswich Society support the need for a new surface. After 30 years of traffic the red bricks are tired, worn and shabby, and here is an opportunity to make something of the Cornhill and of the buildings in the immediate vicinity, but without the extensive clutter proposed.
ii) Most members who had corresponded were suggesting that a sum over £3 million was excessive for the work envisaged. However the Planning committee is not the forum for discussions about Council expenditure. Had the application been by any other developer no-one would have known the cost of the scheme.
John's main point of contention was the lack of commitment to the scheme by Suffolk County Council. A letter within the application documents clearly stated that SCC (the Highway Authority) would not be responsible for the maintenance of the new road surface, for the trees, street furniture, steps or fountains. A very negative letter considering that SCC are joint partners in funding the capital cost.
The removal of the two Norwegian Maple trees outside the old Post Office (trees in a Conservation Area are protected) was unnecessary and would be a sad loss of an important amenity. John went on to remind the committee that there was nothing in the proposals (as proposed by Ipswich Vision) that there should be better use of the Town Hall, Corn Exchange and old Post Office. Perhaps some of the proposed expenditure on street clutter could be better used to improve access and long term use of those buildings.
The Cornhill, at 0.3 hectares is a very small space for a town square. It was small in the nineteenth century when the population was under 100,000, even more so today with twice that number of potential users. A town square where the usable space should not be lost to sculptural figures, fountains and steps.
As is frequently the case with planning applications, important details are left as reserved matters, discussion and decision between architect and planning officer. Such is the case here in respect of the materials to be used as surfacing material: slabs, tiles or setts, the choice of granite or some other stone, and the prominent colour will clearly have an impact on the ambience of the finished scheme. John suggested that with such an important decision the scheme should not be approved until the detail is known.
Speakers at Planning Meetings are limited to five minutes but the Chairman appreciated the importance of this scheme and the need to clarify the views of a large number of objectors so held the red light until John had finished. It was to no avail. The committee were keen for the scheme to progress (it having been five years since Sir Stuart Rose first suggested improvements and insulted Ipswich) and approved the application.