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The fatal stabbing of a teenager in a busy Ipswich shopping street caused shock around the town. In the midst of a cost of living crisis after the Covid pandemic, it also prompted questions around safety and the future of the town centre. Is the town centre safe and what is its future?
Joe Bailey sees Ipswich as a place of “massive potential and positiveness”.
Located close to the Suffolk coast, Ipswich boasts more than 600 listed buildings, attractive parks and a waterfront area revitalised from its industrial past.
“Ipswich has a multicultural richness which goes back many, many decades,” says Mr Bailey, who runs a music venue in the town.
“It is a town small enough to make a big impact in, if you want to.
“I love the town itself and its proximity to the coast and countryside, as well as other major towns and cities.”
Despite his fondness for the town he has lived in for the past decade, Mr Bailey recognises it has an image problem with some.
The demise of Debenhams and BHS has left holes on the High Street that have yet to be filled, while other stores like H&M and Cotswold have also departed.
According to Ipswich Borough Council’s annual survey, there has been an 11% rise in unit vacancies in the past five years.
Mr Bailey wants people in the town to come together to make things better.
“Since moving to Ipswich, I’ve noticed that we’re always talking ourselves down and many who constantly complain are the same people who take no active part in trying to make the town better,” he says.
“I think that many towns are suffering from the same issues of deprivation, much of which stems from 13 years of government funding cuts and the ongoing cost of living crisis.”
When Raymond James Quigley, 18, was fatally stabbed in Westgate Street in January, it caused fear and alarm among the community. The attack happened in broad daylight in a busy shopping street.
The town’s Conservative MP, Tom Hunt, has been calling for greater powers for police to tackle anti-social behaviour in Parliament, while Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore has acknowledged there is a negative perception among some people around safety in the town.
Mr Hunt says while the town is benefitting from Town Deal funding, problem behaviour was putting off people from visiting.
“I’ve got a great passion for the town centre and for many of the businesses, but the reality is when I talk to a huge number of constituents they say they don’t go into the town centre any more,” he says.
“One of the reasons is they don’t feel safe… is to do with groups of men hanging around.
“I’d like to see a permanently higher police presence [and] a zero tolerance approach.
“I’m incredibly proud to represent Ipswich but I don’t think it helps the situation when there are problems to ignore them.”
How does Ipswich compare to other places?
Office for National Statistics data shows the overall crime rate in Ipswich during 2021-22 was less than places like Cambridge, Gloucester and Northampton.
Of the 311 community safety partnerships across England and Wales, Ipswich was ranked 62nd with 110 crimes recorded per 1,000 people – far fewer than the 266 per 1,000 people recorded in Westminster or 196 in Middlesbrough.
Looking only at violence against people, Ipswich rises from 62nd to 48th, with 47 offences per 1,000 people. That rate, however, is still lower than places like Norwich, Lincoln or Wrexham.
In terms of a decline in retail offering, the situation in Ipswich mirrors the national picture. BBC analysis across the UK showed there are 9,300 fewer retail outlets in March 2022 than March 2020, as shoppers switched to online stores.
But while some shops have fallen by the wayside, other businesses have seen Ipswich as a place to invest, including The Botanist bar and restaurant, which opened in the town last year on a prime location on the Cornhill.
The Cornhill, the square in the centre of the town, had millions of pounds spent on it in 2018 and the Buttermarket, which is one of the town’s two shopping centres, has seen shops replaced with a cinema and restaurants in recent years as it has moved to a leisure offering.
There are moves to reshape the town to create more housing, green spaces, schools and recreation – a so-called 15-minute town.
There is also a new campaign for Ipswich to become a city after the original bid for the Queen’s Jubilee was dropped.
There was disappointment in Ipswich when it was overlooked for government Levelling Up funding of £18m last month.
A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokeswoman says Ipswich is already benefiting from millions of pounds of government money.
This includes £25m from the Towns Fund “to revamp the town centre and bring derelict buildings back into use”.
“This is on top of £1.3m through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund which will be used on local priorities, including supporting additional police resources for the town,” the government statement says.
Jack Abbott, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, is one of those backing the town to become a city.
“Like anywhere, Ipswich has its challenges, but we have so much to be proud of,” he says.
“From a thriving arts and culture scene to our jewel that is the waterfront, we have such a positive story simmering under the surface.
“We’ve got real potential, but we need to do more to realise it.
“We must go for a city bid, give better support for our small and independent businesses, and look to attract new jobs and investment by creating a hub for renewable energy and clean technology.”
Phanuel Mutumburi, from the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, says a light needs to be shone on all the “positive things” it has.
He says the “perception of crime and fear of crime” does not stack up against data and the town he has called his home for 18 years.
The Reverend Tom Mumford, who has been the vicar at St Mary le Tower Church since last year, is similarly excited about the town’s future.
He believes Ipswich is a “victim of the harsh economic downturn which has affected many other similar towns”.
He adds: “Though it is not yet thriving as we might hope, there are many of us who are working hard to improve it and that collective passion and desire to bring about positive change and flourishing excites me.”
What can the authorities do to help turn these hopes and aspirations for the town into a reality?
Business group Ipswich Central says it has already started to bring together relevant organisations, including the police and borough and county councils.
“The view is that there must be a commitment by all with an action plan implemented,” says chief executive Sophie Alexander-Parker.
“A zero-tolerance approach must be adopted for people to feel safe in their own town, and we are committed to making this happen along with other key organisations.”
Suffolk Police has appointed its new community engagement officer, PC Chris Garrod, as part of its plans to increase police visibility within the town centre.
A policing team is based in Princes Street.
Supt Andy Martin says they are the first steps in the force’s new “visibility plan”.
“These additional resources will work alongside partners in our continued drive to ensure the future prosperity of the town and those who use it,” he says.
It says the money will go towards introducing measures such as better surveillance in the Norwich Road area, while investing in a string of projects to attract more people to the town centre.
David Ellesmere, the Labour council leader, acknowledges the challenges but says Ipswich’s full potential is being worked on.
“The council has managed to attract a number of new businesses to the town centre recently such as Deichmann, The Botanist and Dough & Co,” he says.
“We know from the contacts our property team have that new businesses are still looking to open in the town centre if they can find the right property.
“Improvements will continue to be made to our town through the money we have been allocated under the Ipswich Town Deal.
“This will pay for improvements such as improving public spaces, establishing free wifi and digital trails, and setting up an £8m regeneration fund to bring empty properties back into use.
“As a council, we are investing to bring more people into the town centre.
“We have recently signed a deal with Suffolk County Council to bring wedding ceremonies to the town hall.
“We are in the middle of a project to turn a redundant town centre church into a new music venue. Our town centre museum is currently undergoing the biggest refurbishment in its 140-year history.
“We are working with partners to put on a calendar of free events for everyone to enjoy on the Cornhill.
“We are aiming to address concerns about safety in the town centre by funding a permanent daytime police presence in the town centre and continuing a programme of CCTV improvements.
“In the longer term, we are working with our partners to rethink what the town centre of the future will look like, with more buildings given over to residential accommodation and the services needed to support the people living there.”
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