Since I wrote a piece for the April Newsletter over a month ago, things have moved on at a pace and some of what I wrote then will have changed. Several shops have been ‘tottering’ for some time and may well fall over the cliff during the Covid 19 episode. Bright House announced administration last week and the Aqua Eight restaurant at the top of Elm Street has just closed. Others we were expecting to open soon, such as Deichmann shoes in the old Burton’s and Sports Direct in the former BHS, may well be delayed. Cllr. David Ellesmere assures me that the Diechmann deal is already signed and sealed. We try to remain optimistic.
Building projects have been put on hold including ‘The Hold’ (Fore Street) and ‘Theatre Square’ (New Wolsey Theatre), where completion will be delayed. It seems likely that the Cornhill snagging work by Brooks and Wood, which was due to start again on 6 April, will almost certainly be put back. Work has stopped on the old Post Office for the time being.
On a positive note, in the more remote areas work continues such as dredging and restoring the Chantry Wilderness Pond. The fountains are back on the Round Pond in Christchurch Park and the park is looking stunning as monuments, drinking fountains and other sculptures have been cleaned up and parks staff have been working hard getting things ready for the summer. The parks remain open for daily exercise and dog-walking providing ‘social distancing’ is strictly adhered to. No picnicking; the children’s playgrounds, cafés, tennis courts etc. are closed. Use of the park benches is discouraged. Park Patrol and Police are doing ‘softly, softly’ regular checks.
As a result of Covid 19 our photographic display on Cornhill is still there eleven days longer than planned and remains ongoing. If you shop at M&S or Waitrose you still have a chance to pop along and look at it. According to John Norman we could be set to have the record for the longest running Cornhill event ever. The cubes have been in place longer than the Valentine Pleasure Fair and longer than the FA Cup win celebrations in 1978. Will they still be there after Easter?
IBC (Ipswich Borough Council) have plans to add two more retail units in the Anglia Retail Park (near ASDA) on the site of the former B&Q garden centre.
Ipswich Society Chairman, John Norman, sent me some interesting figures last week regarding town centre rents for retail units in Ipswich which appear below. Although cold comfort, it would appear that Ipswich is holding up as well as any town in the UK of a similar size.
There are over 400 vacant retail and commercial properties in Ipswich, a figure close to 10%, which is typical for a provincial retail centre in 2020.
There is little sign of the advertised price having dropped although agents are always willing to negotiate with a genuine enquiry from an established company.
13/15 Butter Market currently occupied by Waterstones (although the current occupier is keen to remain). £75,000 pa for 16,000 sq ft over 4 floors (prime retail 8,500 sq ft).
43/45 Tavern Street, vacant but previously occupied by Cotswold Camping, part of the former Great White Horse: £65,000 pa for 6,500 sq ft of which 2,000 sq ft is the former ballroom (the former ballroom is over Nickleby's Restaurant in Northgate Street).
47 Tavern Street (Starbucks) is also on the market for £37,000 pa.
24 Tavern Street, currently Paperchase, who are searching for alternative premises in Ipswich:£75,000 pa for 6,700 sq ft (prime retail 2,400 sq ft, plus basement and two upper floors). Paperchase are likely to move into an existing 'department' store rather than a stand-alone retail unit. They are already in NEXT at Martlesham.
51 Butter Market former Jessops Cameras, for sale £250,000 or rent £22,500 pa for 2,300 sq ft. The agent’s particulars differ when suggesting the size of the retail catchment area with a range from 270,000 to 320,000 people. The population of Ipswich is 133,400; that of Suffolk: 730,000 (2011 census).
Accepting Ipswich as IP1, IP2, IP3 and IP4 we could add IP5: Kesgrave and Martlesham: a population of 20,000 (8,000 homes).
Who knows what the state of things will be in a year’s time? But to remain positive, ‘keep calm and carry on’ will get us through this and we have to thank all those who are taken for granted such as the bin collection workers, shop staff and pharmacists, post men and women and other delivery staff, all the many businesses and their staff performing in the background to keep things running and, of course, carers and all those in the NHS and other medical and essential services and many, many more unsung heroes.
Photo: The 'Golden Pavilion', New Wolsey Theatre