Alistair Lang said in the introduction to his talk
that he wanted to present "a considered and honest outsider's view of
Ipswich" from his perspective of having lived here for twenty years.
He certainly achieved that. Brought up in Paisley, with a good knowledge of
Glasgow and Edinburgh and with working experience in Cardiff and New York, he
has been able to appreciate what has succeeded in regenerating parts of
cities. He emphasised the importance of vision and leadership rather than
suggesting that solutions could be simply transferred from one place to
another. (For instance he described how Cardiff's Waterfront had been
separated from the city centre by a major traffic route but by using "cut and
cover" the traffic had been put underground and I think his listeners
realised that the sort of money invested in a capital city would not be
available for Star Lane in Ipswich!)
Mr Lang's working life in Ipswich makes him well worth listening to. He has
worked in banking and is now Chief Executive of Birketts Solicitors, is a
member of the CBI Eastern Regional Council and was actively involved in the
renewal campaign for the Ipswich Business Improvement District (BID).
He underlined some of the positive features of our town - the revitalised
Waterfront, the heritage as represented in our medieval churches and museums,
the outstanding number and quality of parks - as well as, in the business and
educational sectors, Suffolk New College, UCS, BT (not in the town but a big
part of our community), Willis ("a world leader"), AXA, and Ipswich Building
Society ("a little gem"). "Ipswich is peppered with good things."
The less good things he described were the town's retail offer, some of the
poor entrance routes into town (with the exception of the descent of London
Road from Chantry Park), the dead town centre in the evening, and his doubts
about whether we have sufficient good quality housing stock.
Although he was sure that the first five years of the BID have brought
improvements such as extra street cleaning, better security (partly through
the presence of street rangers) and better access to the centre, there is
much more to be done. He takes heart from the fact that the successful
second BID (starting this year) had the biggest percentage approval rating in
the UK. And the Master Plan being developed by Ipswich Central and IBC
should help to re-shape the town. But so far there is no 'Wow factor' to
inspire all those who could make Ipswich a more dynamic place.
In a more anxious part of the talk he wondered whether the town would be
vulnerable to more job losses as insurance companies restructured globally -
and already centralising by banks and insurance firms has meant that layers
of well paid managers no longer live here. Another problem is that office
rental values are low so that developers can't afford to build new premises
His main message to all decision makers, and indeed to all townspeople, is to
increase a joined up approach to improve the town. It's not sufficient to be
"peppered with good things". Ipswich has "the raw material" but needs to
harness its heritage, its business and cultural activities and its political
will in promoting whatever would be helpful to the town.