If the Northern Fringe of Ipswich is to be built on eventually, what should
it look like? I was pleased to see that both Ben Gummer MP and Paul Geater,
Ipswich Star s political reporter, recommended that those
responsible should be prepared to learn about aspects of urban design from
best practice on the European mainland.
The Ipswich Society's many visits to the mainland in the 1980s and 90s were
at least partly motivated by our wish to learn - which we did in all the
countries visited. We heard about the problems of urban planning in a city
where its most famous building is Charlemagne's 8th century Palatine Chapel,
now part of the cathedral (Aachen). We observed how an underground car park
could be built underneath a city centre square (Ghent). We appreciated the
aim of ' social housing' in-fill to bring life back to the city centre
(Antwerp). We saw the value of retaining the facades of typical old
buildings with new build going on behind. and this in a city starting to
re-invent itself (Lille). And we learned about constructing a completely new
town on land reclaimed from the sea (Almere, near Amsterdam).
But we were only interested lay observers with no influence. The people who
ought to go and learn now are the big housing developers and their architects
and planners. They initiate and make the major decisions about urban designs
which local planners must respond to. The British house-building industry
has much to be proud of. I'm sure - but I'm equally sure it is an industry
which tends to be complacent and insular.