Background and location
With the councils constant emphasis on the waterfront, a lapse of coherent thinking has lead to a planning calamity which has ultimately resulted in the total isolation of the waterfront to the rest of the town and the golden mile as its known, from Hyde Park corner (where Westgate meets St Mathew’s Street to Major’s corner by the Regent theatre). Despite a 2011 proposal to link the two parts of the town, Ipswich is now left with a lacklustre, 4 storey development of retirement homes… what ambition.
The problem? The location of the waterfront in comparison to the main high street and main thoroughfare. The fantastic idea of making the waterfront the heart of Ipswich was dreamt up by the council and local authorities in the early 2000’s and without the proper planning we’re left with a debacle. Between the town centre and waterfront lies two carriageways, the infamous Star Lane/College Street one-way system that is constantly clogged with traffic. Moreover, the main Albion Wharf (now Regatta Quay – the winerack) part of the waterfront is a mere 0.5 miles from the beating heart of the town centre – the cornhill and market, though the future of the market is uncertain.
A site, formally the offices for Archant before their relocation to Portman House in late 2016
is was key in linking these two parts of the town. Located between Lower Brook Street and Turret Lane along Star Lane, the site is the ideal location to create a new thoroughfare up to the Buttermarket and Arras Square, creating a north/south axis in the town centre. The way to achieve this was by creating a large, mixed-use development consisting of a hotel, offices, residential and retail as well as a multi-storey car park. This development was proposed in 2011 and seemingly had the backing of the council, Ipswich Central and MP at the time – Ben Gummer. Yet we are stuck with a retirement home. So what went wrong?
This 2011 mixed-use scheme, called the Link, would have consisted of a hotel, offices, residential, retail and a multi storey car park, though not official, initial renders hint at a Waitrose on the ground floor. The Link scheme was designed as just that, a link between the waterfront and town centre by creating a new thoroughfare up Turret Lane to Arras Square and up Lower Brook Street to Upper Brook Street. This would have created a new north/south axis in the town providing an accessible route to the waterfront.
The proposal would have seen the erection of a number of mixed use buildings constructed around a central square, all buildings were to have retail on the ground floor. The main building (picture above) would have been a modern 8 storey building facing Star Lane and Turret Lane. The scheme also aimed to link the high density of the waterfront to the low density of the town centre by using the buildings as a step down – taller along Star Lane, low density facing the town centre. There was also talk of a new pedestrian bridge which would have bridged the one-way system as part of this proposal. Instead, we are now stuck with traffic lights on one of the busiest roads in Ipswich.
However, no planning application was ever submitted despite support by the council, Ipswich Central and the MP Ben Gummer. Though it fell through for a number reasons, ultimately it fell through as a result of being too ambitious, the council were not going to risk creating a new thoroughfare link, it would take people away from the waterfront hence why they were publicly in support – most of the public welcomed this proposal. This proposal collapsed due the incessant focus on constantly redeveloping the waterfront, at the time, the focus was on the university. The council did not want to risk this development as it was too ambitious, this can be seen with the almost immediate approval to a subsequent planning application for … a retirement home – it’s a guaranteed return on investment.
Status: Built/under construction
Developer: McCarthy and Stone
In 2016, a planning application was submitted for the creation of new retirement home for McCarthy and Stone. It will consist of 51 apartments and 11 houses, communal facilities, limited landscaping and car parking.
This planning application was hastily accepted showing the ambition of Ipswich – a prime site, now a retirement home next to the towns busiest road. Furthermore, this showcases a lack of logic, joined up thinking and simple planning. The demographic of the waterfront is now inconsistent – the waterfront will now consist of
- Student accommodation
- Middle class living/empty flats
- Retirement homes
Meanwhile, young families and first time buyers are finding it near impossible to find an affordable home in Ipswich, let alone the waterfront. But as stated already, a retirement home is going to guarantee a return on investment and is not an ambitious proposal hence it’s relatively quick planning process.
The wider picture
The ‘Link’ development exemplifies a worrying trend that ambition in Ipswich is dwindling and housing seems to be the only large developments. This has been seen time and time again with St Georges House, St Peter’s Port, Orwell Quay, Grafton Way Tesco, etc – the list goes on. It seems some of the blame can be put on the financial crisis of 2008, however, the council and organisations such as Ipswich Central need to take responsibility. It’s a case of political motives of what they (Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and Ipswich Central) believe Ipswich should be. The bane of Suffolk, looked down upon and used as a dumping ground for Mid Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal’s housing demands.
The Council seems to only be focused on the waterfront, disregarding the rest of the town, albeit, the Cornhill revamp – which no-one asked for except a businessman who visited once. The Link development fell through, partly due financial strain but also because at the time the focus was solely on the university. This is the perfect depiction of everything wrong with the councils vision of Ipswich.
The only large scale ambitious developments Ipswich has seen since Greyfriars is the regeneration of the waterfront. To explain:
- Early 2000s – The regeneration of the waterfront to provide new housing and tourist attractions, stalled after the crash of 2008.
- Late 2000s – The creation of a university, effectively a regeneration of the regeneration starting a shift from tourist to education.
- 2016/17 – The Upper Orwell Crossings. Most of the support seems to be for the fact it is a large scale development, irrespective of motive. It in itself is a desperate bid by the council to regenerate the stalled regeneration of the entire waterfront and expand the university which was built on a small site with no planning. Its being sold as an Orwell Bridge replacement, yet, its a bridge to nowhere to ‘unlock’ a flood risk island that it’s not connected to, for development of more housing and a tech hub connected to the university.
Even the Cornhill is being portrayed as a regeneration of the town centre. Yet, large scale developments across the town never come to fruition. Even large mixed-used proposals located near or on the waterfront fall through due to the fact its no longer a safe investment. Look at the waterfront, empty flats overly priced aimed at the London market and large ground floor units that have never been occupied. Except the possible exception of Issacs, there is no entertainment or leisure, nothing except a University, some restaurants and hundreds of empty flats. And despite this, mixed use developments fall through across the town centre, even though, developers and investors are often willing to put up the money. Therefore, the 2008 crash, though it definitely had an impact, has become a drawn out excuse; the waterfront was meant to regenerate the town, now ironically, it’s causing it’s own demise.
The waterfront dream, as mentioned, was seemingly dreamt up over night with no planning or regard for future expanse. The university, barely propping up the dream, has failed to increase investment and the university itself is in a poor location with little room for expansion. Enter the Upper Orwell crossings, a last ditch effort to save the dream, based on the idea it can open up the Island site for development (the Council hope for university/tech hub) being sold to the public, misleadingly, as the solution to Ipswich’s traffic problems. With the hundreds of empty flats along the waterfront, undeveloped sites and the failure to attract London firms to Princes Street, one can ask the question, when will the council give up on this debacle?
Ipswich should celebrate it’s maritime history, not wreck it with expensive flats, we should celebrate the architectural gems, our parks, our history – which the council loathes, just look at the old County Hall, it is a farce. We should allow development and investment across the town and in prime locations such as the 2011 link development, not just housing, but leisure, entertainment, shopping and create a sense of place – unlike the stoke bridge end of the waterfront. Yes, Ipswich needs housing, but so does nearly everywhere in England. Infrastructure needs investment and prime town centre locations should be used to create a cultural hub with museums, art galleries, venues, nightclubs, events, markets, a tourist route through the town etc. The Buttermarket conversion is a good start, but it is just more restaurants.
The sooner the waterfront dream dies, the sooner ambition and investment in the town will increase. It just depends if Suffolk County Council wants to see Ipswich flourish.