In 2015, I produced an article for the Ipswich Society called “A tale of Three Cities”, providing side-by-side analysis of Ipswich versus its two main regional competitors, Norwich, and Cambridge.
My opening line was as follows “Even as champions of Ipswich, we perhaps find it bewildering that a town with so many assets just doesn’t enjoy the same feel-good factor as other regional centres. The ingredients are all here, but somehow the recipe for success has been lost“.
I provided a study of 50+ key performance indicators to compare Ipswich versus Norwich and Cambridge, and I gave key objectives to turn the fortunes of the town around.
Almost 10 years on, and not much has changed
Nearly a decade later, the statistics are a little out of date, but the direction of travel remains unchanged.
Plus we have a third major rival emerging in the shape of an ambitious Colchester, one of Essex’s three new cities.
Whilst many in Ipswich may think that my focus on local government reform is something new or radical, much of it is factual and historical.
Donate to Ipswich.love
Make a small one-off or a recurring donation to support our work. We truly appreciate your support.Support Ipswich.love
In January 1974, “Ipswich Information” (the County-Borough’s free newsletter to residents) stood on the precipice pondering what was to come.
“Ipswich has managed its own affairs for over seven and half centuries since, in the first year of his reign, King John granted a charter to the town (15 years before Magna Carta) which gave the inhabitants important privileges for self-government“.
The same newsletter, much like the former powerful county-borough was tossed aside by 1977. In its final edition it published a forlorn “Requiem”.
“We told, how in the disastrous reorganisation (local government reform 1974), that it (Ipswich) seemed to lose, not only its autonomy, but also its identity.”
Accountability and authority
For anyone who has directed, managed, or worked in large and successful corporations, we know that accountability and authority are paramount to success.
Ipswich Borough Council
15-17 Russell Road Ipswich IP1 2DE
Ipswich Borough Council is the local authority for Ipswich, a non-metropolitan district with borough status in Suffolk, England.
Yet overnight the once powerful County-Borough of Ipswich moved from a unitary authority elected by all its stakeholders for its stakeholders; to a two-tier structure, a conurbation politically dominated by rural Suffolk.
The 774-year-old borough was now dumbed down to planning, recreation, bins and burials.
A new Suffolk wide County Council came in to oversee economic development, infrastructure, highways, transport, health, adult and childcare, schools, hospitals, crime, libraries, and environment.
The new Suffolk County Council was formed in 1974 by three equal authorities and stakeholders; the County-Borough of Ipswich, East Suffolk Authority (its HQ in Ipswich at the old Jail) and West Suffolk Authority (based Bury St Edmunds).
Overnight urban Ipswich residents forfeit 100% County-Borough of Ipswich control over all these key vital matters, not even to 33% representation (based on three authorities), but to actually having just 17% representation based on ancient borough boundaries set in 1835.
With Ipswich being politically diverse the 17% representation fighting for Suffolk’s major conurbation can rarely agree amongst themselves(!), let alone form a cohesive bloc to champion Ipswich’s county governance and regional needs.
For nearly 50 years of its existence we rarely have had anyone from Ipswich on the all-powerful Suffolk County Council cabinets (with budgetary and strategic control).
Suffolk County Council is based in Ipswich, controls Ipswich, but rarely by decision makers who are stakeholders in Ipswich! Frankly, it’s a surprise that Ipswich functions at all.
This alone would be bad enough. Yet Ipswich is also diminished and “Suffolkated” at borough/district level of governance too.
Our neighbouring rural districts are always keen to dump their required housing stock on to Ipswich’s backdoor. Some 8,000 houses planned by East Suffolk District and Babergh-MDSC to the east & north of Ipswich, and miles from their precious rural villages.
Yet, the same rural districts are never as keen to equip Ipswich with the infrastructure, roads, and services that the shared stakeholders need to deal with the growth.
These new satellite towns and estates are encouraged to face away from Ipswich and pretend that they’re nothing to do with Ipswich, whilst universally berating the town for being run down, ill equipped, or lacking as a regional centre.
Perhaps above and beyond the loss of accountability and pride, and the stolen political authority, it is Suffolk’s attitude, lack of ambition, and short sightedness for its major town and regional centre that hurts (economically and emotionally) most.
Norfolk has always championed Norwich because it is good for Norfolk.
Yet, while Suffolk trips over itself to support Ipswich Town, it never supports the town of Ipswich.
What can be done to redress Ipswich’s loss of authority, voice, and direction?
Whilst I am convinced that Greater Ipswich needs a Greater Ipswich unitary authority voted for, and accountable to all the shared stakeholders that share our conurbation, there are many other steps that can and should be taken.
Some positive steps to empower Ipswich
- Suffolk needs to empower Ipswich. To acknowledge that Ipswich, its assets, and services, sustains a greater urban area of over 250,000 people. You can fit all Suffolk’s five next biggest town’s populations into that. We are Suffolk’s regional centre and only conurbation. We must deal with many social issues that rural Suffolk and smaller towns like Bury, Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe, etc simply cannot and probably don’t want to handle.
- At minimum, Ipswich needs a joined-up plan, planning, strategy & voice for all those who share this important conurbation. We need a Greater Ipswich Local Plan, one that recognizes the conurbation holistically and forces neighbouring districts to work together for Ipswich.
- We should look north of the border & learn from our major competitor. At minimum we need an equivalent to Norwich’s Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP), the Greater Norwich Growth Board (GNGB) & joint core strategy. “Under the GNLP both (neighbouring) Broadland District and South Norfolk Councils are working with Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council to prepare the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP). The Joint Core Strategy (JSC) plans for housing and job needs of the area to 2026 and the GNLP will ensure that these needs continue to be met to 2038”.
- Suffolk County Council must acknowledge that Ipswich’s authority, ambition, planning, and voice has diminished since the disastrous local government reform of 1974, and work to restore parity. It must be acknowledged that County Borough of Ipswich was one of three authorities (with East Suffolk and West Suffolk) to form Suffolk County Council; and to ensure that Ipswich area always has a third of the cabinet/Portfolio holder positions. Or, set up portfolio committees with three members, one from each stakeholder (Ipswich, East & West Suffolk).
- We must start thinking and acting like a city and equipping Ipswich as a city.
- Ipswich’s 1835 boundaries must be reviewed and redrawn to represent the actual conurbation and with equal voice for ALL those that share it.
- Our constituency boundaries must also be redrawn to recognise and empower the town. Ipswich sent two MPs to Westminster for 528 years (1386-1914). Norwich still has two, so why is one half of Ipswich represented by a rural MP, based a metaphorical 1,000 miles away in Framlingham?!
- There needs to be a Greater Ipswich Business & Academic Group to champion Ipswich & Felixstowe, Suffolk A12 & A14, at country, regional, and national level. Like Cambridge Ahead or Shaping Norfolk’s Future (Norwich centric). It must set strategy, core objectives for infrastructure and economic development. Making sure that Ipswich & Felixstowe have joined up economic and infrastructure objectives and voice; ensuring bums on seats and leadership at economic forums like New Anglia LEP and Eastern Powerhouse.
- We must challenge and change the “Kesgrave Town Council” mentality of facing away from Ipswich and work together as joint stakeholders who share the Greater Ipswich area.
- We must all actively challenge Ipswich prejudice and encourage local people to realise that a strong Suffolk absolutely needs a strong Ipswich.