Our town centre – a mixed picture

Why does the appearance of parts of Ipswich town centre vary from a little bit run-down  to smart and tidy?

You can take a look at the former Queen’s Head public house building at the top of Civic Drive.

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The former Queen’s Head building

It’s a right dilapidated mess with peeling paint and dirty windows. Ipswich Borough Council is the ultimate landlord but does not seem to care about its deteriorated condition. There is a lovely new restaurant next door in the former Iceland store. But the former pub is a prime spot at the entry to the town centre, and lets the town down. The Conservative group at the Borough Council have repeatedly pressed the Labour council gives it a tidy up, but Labour have refused to take any responsibility. Conservative Councillors even offered to paint the exterior themselves but the Labour councillor responsible made an excuse and rejected this generous offer !  It seems the Labour councillors want this area to look scruffy.

There have been a number of homeless people living in tents in the Elm Street and Civic Drive area. On the grass area in Civic Drive, the tents remaining were abandoned and mysteriously caught fire 2 days later and the fire brigade had to extinguish the potentially damaging blaze. Yet the Borough Council took over 2 weeks to tidy up the charred remains and other dumped camping materials. Why didn’t they clear the mess up immediately?

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Before the fire
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Abandoned and burnt out

You can then look at the smartened up Princes Street area from the railway station up to the Civic Drive area. Why is this area so much more attractive now? It is partly because the previous Conservative MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, worked with the government and councils to allocate this an Enterprise Zone. This means businesses pay reduced or nil business rates for up to 5 years and the Conservative government reimburses the local authority for their reduced rates. The Borough Council has taken advantage of this, through their arms length company, Ipswich Borough Assets, helping to develop the Birketts building.

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Princes St

So my conclusion is where the Labour Borough Council wants parts of the town to look run-down and scruffy, they do absolutely nothing. But where private sector developers, possibly working in conjunction with a Conservative government initiative, the incentive is there for everyone to work together to improve the visual appearance. The refurbished Buttermarket shopping centre is another great example of private sector money investing in improving Ipswich.

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Buttermarket Shopping Centre
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Shopping and car parking-what is happening ?

2018-08-15 12.55.17.jpgWhen talking to residents, two of the most common problems many talk about is shops in Ipswich, and the price of car parking.

SHOPPING.

We have all seen the failures and near failures of well-known names such as Maplins, Poundworld, Homebase, Toys R Us and House of Fraser. Here in Ipswich, we have been affected by some of these in the town centre and out of town retail parks. The economy overall is doing well; households have the greatest level of confidence in their finances in over three years, according to IHS Markit. So what is happening with our high streets?

I would suggest that the large online retailers such as Amazon are making trading conditions excessively competitive for some high street shops. The likes of Amazon are perceived to not be paying much tax. We saw that they only paid £1.7m so far for 2017, when its profits are £72.3m, and turnover of £1.98b. I read in the press that the SNP government in Scotland and the UK government are considering whether their business rates on their enormous warehouses is actually fair, when bricks and mortar shops are having to pay onerous business rates.

As a Conservative, I believe in low taxation for businesses and workers. But it does not feel right if high street shops are struggling due to their high operating costs where they cannot compete with Amazon. Yes  – rents are a factor, and that is something that some of the retail chains are negotiating.

But business rates are in the control of government, and this could be one area where the government could re-balance the scales in favour of physical shops, since our town centres are the life-blood of our community. Some people complain about the lack of shops, might browse in physical shops but then go online to order their goods.

If you want to save your high street, you need to support it. In Ipswich, we see more diversity with the Buttermarket Shopping Centre being transformed into a popular eating, leisure and cinema venue. The redevelopment of the Cornhill, over which some residents have reservations, will transform our town centre and attract new investment and choice.

CAR PARKING.

Here in Ipswich, the Borough Council is planning on increasing its car park fees again. The council selectively compares IBC-owned car parks to the private operators locally such as NCP, and further afield in other towns such as Norwich, Colchester and Bury, and attempts to highlight that its car park charges are cheaper in some cases. The problem is that the data only compare a select set of fees, and ignores other nearby towns. And by putting up IBC fees, the private operators may gleefully increase theirs in due course to maintain the differential.

The Conservatives’ approach is to offer Ipswich residents a discount on car parking charges and bus fares. For the town centre, we want to see a radical transformation of the town by offering more cultural and family entertainment & we are proposing a new Waterfront Heritage Centre and a multiuse Arena. Let’s show the region and the country what a top-class place Ipswich can be.