The DTZ Report into Ipswich's town centre probably tells us what we already
knew, if only we were to face the obvious. Ipswich's shoppers are no longer
flooding into the high street to do their shopping. In fact, the British
Retail Consortium suggests footfall in December was 2.5% lower than the
previous year, and December with its all-important Christmas trade is the
barometer for the year.
Where I think DTZ have got it wrong is in their analysis of alternative
destinations to Ipswich town centre. They suggest high street spend is
going to Colchester, Bury, Woodbridge and Felixstowe. They fail to report
that Ipswich folk, most of whom, I suspect, are not travelling very far on a
regular basis for their comparison shopping, are choosing Ransome Way,
Martlesham or Copdock.
Clearly decision-free car parking has a major influence and by decision-free
I mean that there is no stress in trying to decide the duration of your stay
as you arrive. Just pull up, park, shop, browse, enjoy a coffee and leave.
No need to watch the clock, stressing that your hour may be up, your ticket
expired and the warden issuing fines.
The other factor to get shoppers back to the town centre is variety: variety
that involves a leisure offer. DTZ suggest that Ipswich is under-provided
with town centre pubs and restaurants, (3% below the UK average of 16%) and
entertainment venues (12.7%, UK average 15.4%). The latter will be
partially fulfilled when Vue Cinemas finally convert part of the
Buttermarket Shopping Centre but these changes won't necessarily provide
people (footfall) and the local authority need to be proactive.
It is essential that town centre offices are fully occupied and that office
workers pop out for the occasional sandwich, the lunchtime shop or something
for tea on the way home.
So who do I envisage occupying these offices? How about the Local
Authorities themselves (Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council)?
By moving people and departments out of Grafton House, Endeavour House and
Constantine House and into Princes Street, Museum Street and Lower Brook
Street. Whole departments operating perhaps marginally less efficiently
than at present but providing life and spending power on the Cornhill.
Even DTZ agree with my previous suggestion of additional residential units
in the town centre. The future of Cox Lane is not the Mint Quarter, or the
Cloisters but a mixed use scheme of town houses and apartments. Will the
former Civic Centre site - Westgate - ever make a shopping centre? I doubt
it, given the exodus of shoppers from high streets across the country, but
it would make a superb residential quarter, enhanced by the almshouses of
Black Horse Lane, a pub and a theatre on site and easily accessible by car
from Civic Drive. DTZ suggest this site has clear advantages over 'The
Link' (the former EADT printing works) in Lower Brook Street.
But, and this is critically important, Westgate is only a few steps from the
retail offer of Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Next. The DTZ Report drops
names of retailers who might, just might, come to Ipswich. I think it more
important to ensure that we keep those we've already got. Incidentally the
brownfield developments suggested above will go one third of the way to
providing the numbers planned on the greenfield Northern Fringe.
Facts and Figures from the DTZ Report for
Ipswich Town Centre
- 1.3 million square feet of retail space
- 570 retail outlets
- 17.5% vacant units (UK average, circa 14%)
- 20% vacant floor space (UK Average 12%)
- A lack of independent shops - viz multiples = 37% [of floor space] (UK
[DTZ is a global real estate adviser based in Chicago, its parent company is
UGL Ltd. DTZ's history dates back to 1784 with the founding predecessor
firm, Cheshire Gibson established in Birmingham. A second predecessor firm,
Debenham and Tewson was founded in Cheapside, London in 1853.]