Things are really starting to move in the town centre.
Last week I visited the former Fison’s building on Princes Street for the announcement that contracts have been let to refurbish this property. Work on this £9m project is due to start in April.
This is good news on a number of fronts: a large investment in Ipswich; new jobs created, both in the construction industry and in the long term occupiers of the refurbished offices; and an eyesore building on the route from the train station finally spruced up.
The Borough Council have worked closely with the developers Hobbs Read Ltd to bring this scheme about. It is part of our long term plan to increase the number of high value jobs in Ipswich and to raise the status of Princes Street as a gateway into the town centre.
The Fison’s building is the first step. We have done a similar deal to enable Birketts to build brand new offices on the site of Riley’s. This will ensure existing jobs are kept in Ipswich and could lead to new ones being created here.
The council has also gained planning permission for a new office block on the former Landspeed garage. We will be marketing this and will build the offices if a tenant can be found.
We are also making progress trying to regenerate the entrance to the Waterfront at Stoke Bridge. Last year we agreed that the council would seek a compulsory purchase order on the car park and the silo to bring forward the development of these two sites.
Needless to say, this was not a popular option with the owners of the two sites. As a result they have agreed for the first time to bring forward plans themselves by September. This is a welcome move. Getting a compulsory purchase order is a bureaucratic, lengthy and expensive process. Work will hopefully happen quicker if the current owners are prepared to do the development themselves.
To help bring the project forward we are prepared to put the money set aside for the compulsory purchase towards some of the costs of developing the site, such as the archaeological works. These will have to be extensive. This is where Ipswich was founded so pretty much wherever you dig something will be uncovered.
We have made further progress with the Crown Estate who own the other derelict building at Stoke Bridge, the Burtons building. It is likely that the council will be able to acquire the building which will mean this too can be brought forward for development.
The third piece of the jigsaw is the road itself. This is a complete mess of multiple different ownerships. Discussions with Suffolk County Council and Associated British Ports have identified a way forward with the County agreeing to take the lead on sorting this out. The large puddles should then hopefully be a thing of the past!
Finally we are taking a report this week to agree the demolition of the former police station. Long past its sell-by date and uneconomic to repair, the demolition will be a positive step towards the redevelopment of this area of town.
It is gratifying that all these projects are now coming to fruition. It has taken a lot of hard work by the council working with many different individuals and organisations to get them moving. It is not glamorous work. It is complex, detailed, patience-sapping and progress is at times frustratingly slow.
But each small victory moves us further along the road to the thriving and prosperous Ipswich we all want to see.