Today, Ipswich Borough Council along with Ipswich Central have announced the ‘winner’ of the new design for the Cornhill – Ipswich’s equivalent of the town square.
Unfortunately, the choice was not actually in the competition announced to the public in September last year, which begs the question why did the Borough Council bother to ask Ipswich residents which scheme they preferred? Isn’t a local authority meant to practice the virtues of democracy or at least be seen to?
Anyway, a variant of Concept C (unfortunately no longer online) was chosen by the powers-that-be in Ipswich. The judging panel was made up of Labour council leader David Ellesmere, Conservative Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, the town centre management company Ipswich Central, Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee, a representative from University College Suffolk and Jay Merrick, the architecture writer on The Independent newspaper.
Concept C was the one with the 2001: A Space Odyssey style tower in the centre of the Cornhill albeit without gorillas clawing at its base. However, we are told by the judging panel the tower will be ‘remodelled’ by ‘winning’ architects Hall Mcknight.
“You’ll see through it, so it doesn’t stand in the way of seeing the buildings behind it,” partner Mr Hall said.
The architects also propose to level the Cornhill from the bottom of Lloyds Avenue to the front of the Town Hall. There will still be unlevelled space going down past Mannings and the Golden Lion public houses so a ‘cafe-style’ environment with tables can be set-up outside these premises. With no disrespect to the proprietors of these premises, they are hardly glass of chianti and cheese establishments – more Carling and vodka shots.
Although I am very much in favour of improving this public space as a magnet to attract more people to spend money in the town centre and help Ipswich grow, there is an elephant on the Cornhill which just won’t go away. What am I talking about? The market.
Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose – who gave Ipswich Borough Council the idea to re-design the Cornhill back in September 2012 – called for the market to be moved. Labour’s Cllr David Ellesmere at the time lept out of his seat at the Ipswich Beacon Conference Sir Stuart was speaking at to say he thought moving the market was a great idea. At the time, I questioned his sincerity and sadly my suspicions have been proven right. You see the traders are Labour’s chums and even though the market is a tatty, somewhat aggressive, dirty affair on four days a week, the Labour-run council aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them and push the market down Princes Street where it belongs.
Conveniently for Labour, Sir Stuart Rose was not at or wasn’t invited to today’s press conference to announce the ‘winning’ design. There’s no doubt Sir Stuart gave the Borough Council a good kick up the backside when he rattled off several ways to improve Ipswich’s offering (only one of which was the Cornhill improvement) but he put a figure of £200,000 on the re-design. Once the Grafton House mandarins got their fingers on it, the cost has rocketed to £3.5 Million, which is another half a million on top of the £3 Million announced at the start of the public ‘consultation’ in September last year. At this rate, the budget could be heading north of £4 million by the time it is finished. No wonder Sir Stuart stayed away: he’s got a business reputation to protect.
The decision by the judges to opt for the revised Concept C was unanimous. It is understood the amended design was chosen as it would allow the Cornhill space to remain flexible. The total funds for the project have still to be found: a fundraising campaign will now begin with town centre businesses being asked to contribute. Ipswich Borough Council has already allocated £800,000 of taxpayer’s money to the project.
The next question is one of timescales. When can we expect to see the implementation complete subject to the cash being stumped up?