Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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New Ipswich Cornhill design announced

New Cornhill: A revised Concept C 'won' the competition

New Cornhill: A revised Concept C ‘won’ the competition

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?

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Cornhill re-development catalyst for Ipswich renewal?

Cornhill: It's seen better days

Cornhill: It’s seen better days

I recently walked through Ipswich town centre with my parents and I was pleased by how much “good” I could point out. We walked from Christchurch Park through to the Novotel roundabout (we had eaten a couple of nights before on the Waterfront) and during this short walk I first pointed out the map-based monoliths and associated signposts. These were implemented by the last Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, spearheaded by my wife (can’t forget that!) Cllr Tanya Maclure – Labour were opposed to the scheme. My parents replied they had used them a few times to help them navigate the town centre when my wife and I were not around. They also recalled they were given a map of the town centre by their hotel receptionist (part of the Council’s signposting scheme). All good stuff.

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

We quickly darted past Carr Street (undoubtedly a blot on the town centre landscape) and headed for Buttermarket where we ended up at Giles Circus, transformed under the previous Tory-led council (again Tanya was heavily involved!) to make it more pedestrian friendly and to make it look aesthetically pleasing –  Labour were opposed to this economic growth scheme as well. Waitrose, happily, were not. They set-up a Little Waitrose shop shortly after the renewed Giles Circus was completed and have been trading since.

We didn’t walk across the Cornhill, which was a shame because the market wasn’t operating that day. But I hope when my mother and father visit next time, Ipswich Borough Council will be getting on with redesigning the Cornhill to make use of this fantastic space. This was the brainchild of Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, who when speaking at the second Beacon Town Conference in Ipswich last September, challenged civic leaders to do something with the Cornhill and get rid of the tatty market. Cllr Ellesmere, being the schoolboy politician he is, glowed and jumped up and down when Sir Stuart made his recommendation. His partner, Cllr Carole Jones was less impressed and suggested in front of Sir Stuart Ipswich was “fine” and he “just didn’t know it well enough” – by all accounts her intervention was a touch embarrassing, but then when did Labour politicians get business and enterprise?

But Sir Stuart is a wily operator and knew his very public recommendation would have to be taken up. So Ipswich Borough Council over the last year put out to tender proposals for a re-designed Cornhill. The proposals are now in and have been whittled down (not sure how this was done and using which process – hopefully it was councillor not officer-led) to five competitors for public consultation. The architects’ designs can be viewed at the Town Hall or online (naturally) at http://www.ipswich.gov.uk/cornhill. Sir Stuart set an original budget of £200,000 to make the changes but local government being local government the budget has increased to £3 Million (which will come from various tax payer funded pots). To be fair even Sir Stuart’s estimate was somewhat unrealistic for a town square redevelopment but for £3 Million I expect a very good result indeed!

My choice for the Cornhill renewal

Concept B: My choice for the Cornhill renewal

I prefer Concept A or B and at a push I’d probably choose B. Concept C looks like the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey so I’ll pass on that one!

However, I’m not sure what Lloyds Bank think of their front door being turned into on-street cafe in Concept A and B?

I’d recommend Ipswich residents reading this to go to the Council website and choose your favourite design. This is a great initiative kicked off by Sir Stuart and once implemented will boost our town centre, which means more people with spending money and more people with money leads to better shops and places to visit. This is what the Council is here for in my view: create the environment for economic growth, then get out of the way and let private business and enterprise do the rest.