The future of "the high street"
Mary Portas's Government commissioned report appeared
shortly before this Newsletter went to press. It deserves proper
consideration in a later issue. She highlights problems apparent
for many years and now increased by internet shopping. Thanks
to Ipswich Central, its BID and its Master Plan (See pages 7 and
22 below) Ipswich is already doing some of the major things
she recommends. But equally important, her report stimulates
recognition of the social value of town centres - where people shop
but can also socialise and be entertained. Without them, human
contacts in the future might be limited to electronic screens, as
foretold in E M Forster's 1909 story The Machine Stops - even the
slightest touch of another person is abhorrent to someone forced to
come out of her self-sufficient indoor existence!
Strong feelings about Ipswich
If you don't read the Evening Star or listen to Radio Suffolk you
might have missed the verbal attacks on Ipswich as a sink town and
den of iniquity. Having published some of these opinions the Star.s
decision to produce a supplement, "I Love Ipswich", was welcome.
In many ways the dispute is the age-old one of Town versus
Country, going back to the literature of Ancient Rome and surfacing
in some periods more than others. The trouble is it's easier to make
the anti-Town case. Of course the recession will be more noticeable
in a town centre and of course there'll be more crime in a town
because that's where there are a lot more people. But those of us
who live here and love Ipswich should point out the advantages -
your children can walk to school, your doctor's surgery is nearby,
your entertainment doesn't necessitate a longish car journey home,
and you might actually have helpful close neighbours! Isn't it really
the case that Ipswich is a very representative town of southern
England, with some weaknesses and some great strengths, actual
and potential? No doubt Ipswich Society members - several of
whom live out of town - have a balanced view.
Is it fair?
Writing this in the run-up to Christmas, I am feeling indignant
as usual about the unfairness of the temporary Christmas shops
opening just for a few weeks, especially in this recession. Yes, it.s
a free market and the owners of empty premises are entitled to get
some rental, if only briefly. But customers are part of that market
and we make it possible. There's nobody else to blame! However,
after Christmas and New Year those premises will be empty again
and the temporary traders might have contributed to the closure
of 'regular' shops which have been denied their essential income
from the seasonal splurge.
If I.ve stirred up some reactions, I'd be delighted to receive your
letters or articles or jottings for the next Newsletter. Meanwhile
in this issue I hope you'll find several interesting and thought
provoking articles - not least what the Society has to say about
planning issues in these changing times (pages 6-9) and what
Graham Smith says about the future on page 5.
Cover, issue 186