Ben Gummer's Ipswich Star Column 6th March, 2015
On Wednesday night I spent four hours that I am never going to get back, wading my way through the Borough’s revised Core Strategy.
What is it? Well, it should be a rather interesting document, as it sets out the plans the Borough has for the town between now and 2031. You would expect some sort of vision, as I did – which is why I turned, first of all, to the chapter entitled ‘Vision’.
The second paragraph is encouraging: ‘It is also important’, the text reads, ‘that the vision and objectives are specific to Ipswich and are not entirely bland statements that would be suitable for any urban area in the country.’ Good, I thought to myself: someone is attempting to be actually visionary, rather than just going through the motions. So I looked down the following three short paragraphs to the next page, where that ‘vision’ is actually outlined. Here is the first sentence:
‘Our Vision is to improve the quality of life, health and well-being for all who live in, work in, learn in and visit Ipswich, by supporting growth and ensuring that development happens in a sustainable manner so that the amenities enjoyed by local people are not harmed and the town is enhanced.’
Now, let me just play a little game, if I may. I want you to judge that paragraph by the Borough’s own principle, stated but four full stops before, that ‘the vision and objectives are specific to Ipswich and are not entirely bland statements that would be suitable for any urban area in the country.’ See how this reads:
‘Our Vision is to improve the quality of life, health and well-being for all who live in, work in, learn in and visit Leicester, by supporting growth and ensuring that development happens in a sustainable manner so that the amenities enjoyed by local people are not harmed and the town is enhanced.’
See what I mean? Substitute any town’s name and that sentence says precisely the same thing. It is about as specific to Ipswich as a Tesco Express. It’s not a vision at all but a soggy sandwich, as bland as a box of own-brand cornflakes. And so goes on the tens of thousands of words that bulk out the rest of this vision-less document.
That little sample tells you all you need to know about why you are not going to get leadership from the Borough in trying to make this town succeed. They know what they need to say, largely because someone has read it in a planning manual somewhere, but when it comes to deploying imagination and real vision, words fail them. Because there is none. I am sorry to be harsh but this is serious. We have so much potential, we have so much we can achieve – and we are let down so often by the very people who are supposed to show us the way.
It’s no use criticising without offering an alternative, so here are some suggestions: talk about Ipswich’s unique community, its proud history and its great past, Paint a picture of the unique opportunities we have within our grasp – our proximity to the world’s financial centre and to the globe’s largest concentration of research – Cambridge. Explain how, with a bit of polish, we could have one of the most beautiful towns in Britain which, with some decent planning of our town centre, could be one of the most vibrant too. Tell us how Ipswich could be the very best, not just about ‘amenities’ being a bit better. Go on – live a little! Because if you do not dare to be aspirational, we will never achieve what is easily within our grasp.