Ipswich is the County Town of Suffolk. The population of the Borough of Ipswich was recorded as145 thousand at the most recent census in 2011. Ipswich is demographically young, with an average age of 38, and has a 11% ethnic minority population. The largest non-white-British populations are from Bangladesh, Poland and Portugal, although increasing numbers of people in these communities have been born in Ipswich. Ipswich is designated as an Opportunity Area in recognition of its low level of social mobility and significant levels of educational under-achievement – these are now improving. However, there is a nearly 10-year life-expectancy gap between the highest-earning and lowest-earning areas of the town. Some of the schools in Ipswich are very high-performing, but several are in need of improvement.
Ipswich has a Borough Council which controls housing, waste collection and cleansing, museums parks and leisure, planning and economic development, licensing, parking and aspects of public protection and community engagement. The Borough Council has been Labour controlled since 2011. Ipswich is also governed from Suffolk County Council which controls education, social care, highways and transport, waste disposal, the fire service and libraries. The County Council has been Conservative controlled since 2005.
Ipswich has a port, a general hospital, a university – University of Suffolk – a Further Education college, a 6th-form college (situated just outside the Borough boundary), the Dance East regional centre, 3 theatres, 3 cinema complexes, sports centres and swimming pools, an extensive range of shops, restaurants and leisure venues, and direct rail access to London Liverpool St (1 hour approx.), Norwich, Cambridge, Peterborough, Chelmsford and Colchester. Work is progressing to improve the rail link with London, and new trains will be introduced from 2019. Ipswich is on the A14 to Birmingham, and on the A12 to London.
Ipswich started as a port in Saxon times, exporting agricultural produce. The Borough won its royal charter in 1200, which meant it was self-governing until the local government reorganisation in 1974. Its most famous son was Cardinal Wolsey who enriched the town and attempted to set up a college here, but fell from grace before it was completed.
Ipswich grew rapidly in the 19th century, building the ploughs, seed drills, reapers and binders, traction engines and other modern agricultural machinery of the time that transformed the productivity of our farms, not just in Suffolk, but throughout the UK and indeed the empire. We developed artificial fertiliser on the back of our initial base as the centre of the coprolite industry. The Wet Dock was created to enable ships to be loaded and unloaded at all times, despite the tidal nature of the Orwell estuary – when built, it was the largest enclosed dock in Britain.
During the late 19th and early 20th century Ipswich’s heavy engineering spread beyond agriculture, with Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies building buses, trams and lorries as well as agricultural machinery. Cranes made valves, Compare Reavell made pumps, Bull made electric motors, and so on. The world’s first lawnmower was built in Ipswich in 1832, and Ransomes Jacobsen still builds lawnmowers in Ipswich today. However, the vast majority of the heavy engineering in Ipswich has now gone.
In the 1960s and 1970s, roads were reconfigured and areas cleared to enable the building of large office blocks to house the insurance industry, which is still one of the major employers in our town. The BT research and development headquarters just down the road in Martlesham is one of the most important local employers, and the East of England Development Agency invested significant sums in the first decade of this century in providing the accommodation needed in Ipswich for the IT spin-off companies that have grown out of BT. The software, games and other IT industries are now a growing part of Ipswich’s economy.
The port is still an important part of Ipswich’s life. Ipswich is the largest grain-exporting port in the UK, and also exports other agricultural goods and mixed cargoes. The main imports coming into Ipswich docks are fertiliser, aggregates and timber. The Wet Dock is in the process of being transformed as a culture and leisure destination, and holds a major marina. Spirit Yachts has an international reputation for building bespoke luxury wooden yachts.
We are blessed with voluntary organisations that work with people to help them to avoid marginalisation, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau; the Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau; the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, the Bangladeshi Support Centre; and the Suffolk Law Centre. However, all those organisations are struggling financially because of reductions in County Council funding. Ipswich people will need to work together to overcome the worst aspects of austerity, and I intend to play my part in achieving that.
Ipswich has immense potential. In the autumn of 2017 Ipswich was judged to be THE best place to start a small business. We have higher unemployment than the rest of Suffolk but many people with skills just waiting to be called upon. We have the space to expand and adapt, even in the very heart of the town. We have a beautiful and sophisticated focus on the waterfront, and the affordable housing and commercial space for new people and businesses to move in. We are only just over an hour from the City of London by train, soon to be less than an hour, but very much not just simply a commuter town.
I believe there are several infrastructure investments needed to enable Ipswich to achieve its full potential. When the Orwell Bridge on the A14 closes, due to high winds, or accidents, or maintenance work, all the lorries bound for the Midlands from Felixstowe have to drive through the town, which comes to a standstill. The solution is a road to the north of Ipswich – a northern bypass – although I am not convinced that this needs to be a dual carriageway. The absence of an east-west road to the north of our town already leads to congestion, and I believe a “distributor road” near to the Borough boundary would be more effective than a bypass at a greater distance out.
We also need a first-rate rail freight link from Felixstowe to the Midlands – the Port of Felixstowe is all set to route a substantial additional proportion of its containers by rail, but the line is not currently adequate. An improved Felixstowe-Midland link would also divert freight trains away from the route via London, free up the main line to London and allow increased speed and frequency.
Ipswich Borough Council is one of the Councils actively engaged in building council housing. Ipswich still has a homelessness problem, but additional council housing, additional hostel places, and a more pro-active approach to getting people off the streets, should help to reduce this. I want to see a more sympathetic and person-centred benefits system, which actually helps people back into employment rather than just stigmatising and punishing them, but until that happens the voluntary sector in Ipswich will continue to help those who are most vulnerable.
The University is one of the newest in the country and is expanding and building its academic reputation. It’s presence, and the new “Hold” heritage centre, together with Dance East and a mooted new Arts Centre, will all contribute to the regeneration of the waterfront, and of Ipswich as a whole.
I believe Ipswich is undergoing a change every bit as radical as occurred in the 19th century when we started building machinery. We are entering a new and exciting phase of our development, where the imagination and intellectual skills of our young people will be the building blocks of our prosperity.