Exciting new plans for the redevelopment of Ipswich’s Cornhill were unveiled today.
The project is led by the Borough Council with its partners from the Ipswich Vision Group, and the message is clear: “We have listened to the public and our designs reflect what we’ve been told.”
The new plans were drawn up after a widespread consultation last year showed that a majority of people and businesses wanted to see Ipswich’s town centre square improved.
However, some details were met with opposition, including the proposed levelling of the Cornhill by use of a large ramp and a “tower”. These have now been dropped in favour of a more traditional design, incorporating a contemporary sculpture and water feature.
Ipswich Borough Council Leader David Ellesmere hailed the new-look plans, which will now go before planners in the spring for approval. If the go-ahead is given, the tendering process will follow and then construction work will start next January, with completion due before Christmas 2018.
Councillor Ellesmere said: “These new designs reflect what the people of Ipswich and conservation groups have told us but they still remain exciting and bold. Our architects, Hall McKnight, have managed the difficult task of retaining the wow factor while meeting public concerns about some of the details. This is going to give us a Cornhill we can all be proud of.”
Further consultation will take place through the planning process. An application has been made and will be registered next week.
The project is being funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council.
Evidence from towns in other parts of the UK shows that refurbishment projects like these can help to increase town centre footfall and retail spend.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the new designs is a set of four “celebratory columns” inspired by the four key figures on top of the Town Hall and former Post Office building. They also reflect the former historic gates to Ipswich, creating a fusion of old and new, reflecting Victorian grandeur in a contemporary form.
The Ipswich Vision Group was set up to support, promote and enhance the town. Partners are: New Anglia Local Enterprise partnership, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, Ben Gummer MP, Ipswich Central, the Suffolk Chamber in Greater Ipswich and the University of Suffolk.
Mark Pendlington, Chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The LEP is pleased to be investing in this important project which will attract new investment and development opportunities to the town centre. The redevelopment of the Cornhill will honour Ipswich's heritage while boosting the modern economic heart of the town, benefiting all who live, work or visit our county town. I look forward to seeing these exciting designs take shape."
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is also enthusiastic: “This is a great moment for the town. These are wonderful plans for our central public space, which will revitalise and beautify a very special civic area. These plans will not only make the centre of Ipswich a better place, attracting new investment, shops and creating jobs but they symbolise two important things; first that Ipswich is rising and secondly how much we can achieve when we work together in the interests of our town.”
Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich, Councillor Christopher Hudson, commented: “This project will really open up the heart of Ipswich town centre for people to use and enjoy. It will provide a focal point where people can meet, relax and plan their visit. As part of the wider project work to improve Ipswich town centre, we have been making great progress with highways works on Princes Street and Queen Street to connect the shopping points and businesses with new road and pavement surfaces to revitalise the town centre and we look forward to seeing work on the new Cornhill begin.”
Paul Clement, Chief Executive of Ipswich Central, said: “The Cornhill is the heart of the town centre and is a key part of the visitor experience in Ipswich. It is really important that our town centre continues to evolve in line with the needs of consumers and these plans help achieve this. The new Cornhill designs are sympathetic to the historic setting, whilst creating a public realm space fit for future needs. They are a testament to the architects who have responded superbly to the local concerns and requirements for the space going forward.”
Catherine Johnson, chair of Suffolk Chamber in Greater Ipswich, also welcomed the new designs: “Suffolk Chamber in Greater Ipswich is delighted to be working with a range of great partners in the Ipswich Vision initiative. The publication of the new Cornhill designs is a welcome step forward for this important project. Getting the Cornhill right will be another piece successfully placed in the jigsaw aimed at making Ipswich a truly great place to do business, live and visit.”
Richard Lister, Vice-Chancellor of University of Suffolk, commented: “I am delighted as this provides further evidence of the regeneration of the whole town which will have a positive impact on our staff and student experience.”
Tom Cookson, of Hall McKnight, is delighted the new designs have been unanimously approved by the Ipswich Vision Group.
He said: “It is an exhilarating project to be involved with and the whole team here have worked hard to incorporate the Cornhill story within the design. The current condition of the square is one of absence as all previous structures and memorials have long since gone. We have proposed four figures to the edge of the Cornhill which reference the four figures on top of both the Town Hall and the former Post Office. They also reflect the historic four gates of Ipswich with the Cornhill at their centre.”
Mr Cookson added: “We wanted to celebrate the movement of people within the space with an informal group of columns and arches and believe they help to herald the next chapter of the Cornhill’s development.”