Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe it's time to change tack and admit that the town
centre no longer has a future as a retail destination. There is currently a
good offer of coffee shops, bookmakers and slot arcades but almost all of the
comparison goods have gone. The motor showrooms went fifty years ago, the
electrical retailers twenty and the last of the home appliances, ironmongery
and stationery stores slowly but surely over the past couple of years.
Admittedly fashion still holds a place but F&F, TU, George and Matalan are
moving the offer out of town. And there is still some food retail but as you
will know only too well this has predominantly moved to the supermarkets (and
the arrival of Tesco in Grafton Way will move even more of the retail pound
away from Upper Brook Street).
So what's to be done with the town centre? RP (Ipswich), the owners of the
Buttermarket Centre, have an alternative idea
and that is to change from retail to leisure, to move away from selling
fashion to food (restaurant style), anchored not by a major department store
(and this shopping mall has seen three try and fail) but by a multi -screen
Do we need nine additional screens in the centre of town? What will become
of the Film Theatre and of the Odeon? And will the eleven screen cinema on
Cardinal Park survive? My guess is that this is the right move for the
Buttermarket - that it will be a success and that the six new restaurants
promised in the planning application will bring much needed footfall to the
town centre in the early evening.
These opening paragraphs bring a string of further questions. What will
happen to Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre given that the multi-storey unit
previously occupied by Littlewoods
is empty and that some of the others have short-term occupiers? Is there a
future for Upper Brook Street without any charity shops? A future for Carr
Street without the discounters and the bookies? Even Ipswich Central omits
Upper Orwell Street from its development plans.
So from now on we promote out-of-town retail as the way forward. comparison
goods in sheds next to John Lewis, Swedish flat pack furniture and smart
phones from little boxes on what was once the industrial heartland of
manufacturing. Massive car parks for easy access to the middle classes (with
a token bus stop for the 30% of households without a car) and congestion from
the shop door to the nearest A14 intersection!
Some say, if only the planning laws were relaxed somebody would develop
County Hall, finish the 'Wine Rack' and build tacky boxes that first time
buyers still couldn't afford on every green field within twenty miles of the
drive-through office .... Brave New World. I welcome your comments.