I was very pleased to see the council’s plans to regenerate the Waterfront take another step forward last week with the granting of planning permission for the former Burton’s building and the neighbouring brick warehouse.
The next stage will be to start work on converting the warehouse into a permanent HQ for the Gecko theatre company.
Gecko are a real Ipswich success story. They are an award-winning and internationally recognised company whose physical theatre productions have appeared on TV and been exported around the world.
The Arts Council has designated them a “National Portfolio Organisation” (NPO) in recognition of the importance of the work they produce and has provided funding for the project to proceed.
Gecko’s new HQ will provide them with a permanent base to develop new productions and is a great complement to the existing Dance East HQ – another of Ipswich’s NPOs – next door.
The regeneration of this section of the Waterfront is a strategic priority for the council and a hugely complex project.
Before we intervened, the area between Stoke Bridge and Dance East was in three different ownerships, with administrators and Irish banks involved. Debts incurred on the buildings by their owners prior to 2008 were vastly higher than they were actually worth.
Through painstaking work the council has managed to acquire all three sites and bring them into one ownership – a prerequisite for kickstarting development.
We gained funding to re-pave the road in front of the buildings which was completed last year and has given the area a huge boost.
We have also agreed to undertake works on the listed cottage on College Street to take this off the Buildings At Risk register and enable it to be occupied.
Our aim now is to use some of the Government’s promised £25m Towns Fund to bring the Burton’s building back into use as a combined café/restaurant, offices and residential development before moving onto the large R & W Paul silo.
There’s still a lot of work to do and funding to be identified but, through having a clear strategy and plan of action, we are making definite progress in improving this important gateway to the waterfront.