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Newsletter, January 2012 (Issue 186)

Living by the Waterfront

There is very little which changes in certain parts of the Waterfront; the timber boat's arrival as Montis or Suntis slowly manoeuvres alongside Anglo Norden at the height of the tide on a Sunday or early Monday; the persistent and bothersome peep of the reversing fork-lift trucks; the insistent activity with St Helena Road closed by stacked timber walls and finally the arduous movement astern as the craft slides sedately back out of the dock two high tides later.

This regular activity is part of the cadence of the dock pulsating as it has since the Wet Dock was constructed in 1842 which was at the time "the biggest enclosed dock in the kingdom".

The yachts and cruisers have displaced the lighters, coasters and bulk carriers. The tone of the waterside has mellowed; only the sailing barges, many locally built, still return now plying a trade in evening river trips and day sailings which chime with the new needs of a 21st century populace. Still, the resonance of the past quietly rings on the Waterfront while beyond the lock gates the main business of Ipswich docks thankfully booms with urgency.

We all witnessed the successful resurgence of the renamed Waterfront in the mid 90s with award winning structures: the DCS buildings, the revamped Isaac Lord's and the Salthouse Harbour Hotel extension providing a poised theme of inspiration. Other projects included Neptune Square, Neptune Marina and Orwell Quay which as residential properties generally added to the harmony of the place. With high occupancy in these apartments and the nearby houses on this eastern half of the Wet Dock there is a commonly held view that life at the Waterfront is good. Noise and parking issues are high-lighted and are under discussion, but an air of muted satisfaction pervades the place.

But we are also only too aware of the failure of development companies in the western half of the Wet Dock which has resulted in the unfinished Regatta Quay 'wine rack' and the Cranfield Mill Tower remaining virtually uninhabited. Were it not for Assis Carreiro's exceptional qualities in raising the funds to fit out the outstanding Dance East studios, John Lyall's 23 story tower would be bare of occupants. Sad it is then that the promised Witchbottle Theatre for the Red Rose Chain also fell by the wayside.

Two recent publications throw into interesting relief the situation which exists on the Waterfront. Time was when we felt an age- old certainty in the names of the wharves and docks, compared with the sprinkling of new-minted aspirational labels of the developers. The recently published Quays and Wharves of Ipswich by the Ipswich Maritime Trust proclaims its intention "to reinstate the old names in their rightful locations". Admirable and timely this is, coming now when officials from Ireland's National Asset Management Authority (NAMA) have decided to combine the discordant Regatta Quay and Cranfield Mill sites into a single unit under the aegis of administering agents. Having seen how advanced the developments were when building work was stopped in 2009, NAMA believed "it should be possible to finish the project reasonably soon." Serendipitious is it not that the return to the old names, as proposed by the Maritime Trust, coincides with the arrival of new agents now to be entrusted with the resurgence of St Peter's Quay, Albion Wharf and Common Quay. An opportunity presents itself for the agents of change to dispense with strident invented names and return to old names and old values which still manifest themselves elsewhere in the Wet Dock in the syzygy of celestial bodies. There is no likelihood of a return to simpler, possibly rougher, days but the old names do resonate - save the one exception that the residents of Orwell Quay may find it difficult if their previous moniker is restored: Gasworks Quay.

Tony Marsden

    Front cover of issue 186 Cover, issue 186

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