Last year the number of shops selling goods for a pound or less increased by 11 % (Local Data Company survey of 500 towns). The number of charity shops increased by 9% and bookmakers now outnumber banks in main shopping centres. As Middle England's middle class consumers become increasingly mobile and internet savvy, the need for quality shops, department stores and small shopping centres decreases alarmingly.
But, no worries - Ipswich is getting a Little Waitrose (a sandwich and dinner in a box shop), a John Lewis At Home (touchy feely, order for delivery the next day store) and a proper Waitrose, the latter two on the Crane's site, Nacton Road. The developer assures me that this re-development will have no effect on the town centre - in much the same way as the developer of Westfield Stratford assured the planners that the two million sq ft of retail space next to the Olympic Park would not have an effect on the regional towns in the catchment area. Stratford is 55 minutes by direct train from Ipswich and every pound you spend in Westfield will be another pound you don't spend locally.
On the day T J Hughes moved out of the Buttermarket, Colin Roberts the Centre manager said he was at a loss to know what other retail company would ever move into the vacated space. After Owen Owen, Allders and now T J Hughes there appear to be very few, if any, stores that require 100,000 sq ft of retail space. I understand there are retailers who are interested in a move into Ipswich but require a large column-free space on a single floor in the prime shopping area, the agent for one describing existing available shops as "medieval sheds."
Nationally the percentage of empty high street shops is 14.5%. In Ipswich the current figure is 11.5%. (Norwich 12.3%). These figures have remained static for the last two quarters. We've lost some nationals but there have been a small number of new independents opening.
But here is the dilemma. Does The Ipswich Society object to AquiGen's proposals on behalf of the John Lewis Partnership at Crane's? They will clean up the whole 44 acres, install the infrastructure and make available 19 acres for retail (John Lewis taking two units totalling 70,000 sq ft) with the remaining 25 acres for 'employment'. They claim they have 30 to 40 other businesses who have expressed an interest in moving on to the 'park' once Waitrose opens. Clearly additional out-of-town retail will have an effect on the town centre, especially with the Tesco development in Grafton Way - but we've been waiting for a Waitrose for years!
John Norman, Vice-Chairman