'We want to revive Ipswich and make it lively again'

Ipswich Bazaar owners and workersImage source, George King/BBC
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The team at Ipswich Bazaar is one of the businesses hoping it can improve the offering in the town centre

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The future of town centres is a topic of conversation never far from the lips of local people, especially ahead of an election.

In Ipswich, big-name retailers including BHS, Debenhams and Wilko have shut up shop in recent years.

This week, the town's general election hopefuls offered some solutions, and some complained about anti-social behaviour.

However, residents and traders - including one business which says it can "revive" the "dying" High Street - see some cause for optimism.

'The older generation'

Image source, George King/BBC
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Carol Smith, of Harkstead village, says Ipswich town centre is not what it once was

Shopper Carol Smith, 76, from nearby Harkstead village, believes more variety for the older generation could be key to its survival.

"It’s not like it used to be and so many shops are shut now, which is a shame," she said.

"We miss a lot of our shops. I used to like the Co-op because it used to be a lovely big shop which sold a lot of things all in one area.

"We need some nice decent clothes shops for ladies. We have Primark but it is just for youngsters.

"They do not think about the older generation."

'Make Ipswich lively'

Image source, George King/BBC
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Mominul Plabon (fourth from right) is one of the businessmen in charge of running the forthcoming Ipswich Bazaar, which is moving into the town's former Poundland building

Mominul Plabon, 35, is one of the businessmen in charge of running the forthcoming Ipswich Bazaar.

The multi-national store, bakery, restaurant and butchers is taking over an empty building in Carr Street which was formerly home to Poundland and Woolworths.

He said: "All the shops are closing so people do not want to come to the town centre and it is really dying, so we want to do something for the community.

"We want to revive the town and make Ipswich lively again and get people into the town centre.

"People are really, really excited again now because of Ipswich Bazaar."

'All about access'

Image source, George King/BBC
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James McCluskey, commercial director at First Bus in the East of England, says the park and ride can help get more shoppers into the town centre

James McCluskey, the commercial director at First Bus in the East of England, says park and ride services can play a vital part in attracting more visitors to Ipswich.

There are two park and ride sides, costing £3.50 with buses every 20 minutes.

"It is all about access," he said.

"People are also looking after their pounds more and more now but we have great value ways for getting those cost-conscious and savvy customers into town."

The company already has a £2 fair cap - subsidised by the government - for its various other bus journeys.

Car parking headaches

Image source, George King/BBC
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Yusuf Rabbi worries the cost of parking puts shoppers off heading to Ipswich

But shopper Yusuf Rabbi believes public transport is not the answer and he feels the cost of parking is putting people off the town centre.

"There will be some people who say ‘use public transport’ but sometimes it is not suitable for those with young children or disabilities,” said the 31-year-old.

"When I try to come to the town centre I have to worry about how many hours I am staying and I have to think about car parking charges.

"To pay by card it is £2.45 an hour or £1.95 on the app. It is complete discrimination against people who are unable to use the app.

"If you compare it to other cities and towns, I just don’t know why Ipswich should have these high prices for car parking.

"This is impacting businesses as well because people will not stay longer.

"Something needs to be done to lower the fares."

Ipswich Borough Council runs car parks such as at Crown Street, costing £1.50 for an hour, while entry after 14:00 BST from Monday to Friday will set motorists back by £2.50 for two hours.

Reasons to be cheerful

The town centre is promising some change.

March saw the news that the former Buttermarket BHS store would become home to a brand new 25,000 sq ft (2,323 sq m) Sports Direct.

Frasers Group, that owns the sports shop, said it would bring other brands to the store including USC, Evans Cycles and Game.

Similarly The Great White Horse Hotel that has stood empty for a number of years is preparing for a major renovation that will explore how the building can be used.

Ipswich Town's recent promotion to the Premier League has also given some local businesses hope of higher footfall.

'Notable reduction'

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Suffolk Police pointed out a reduction in crime in the town

This week, both the Conservative and Reform UK candidates said crime was harming people's town centre experience.

But Ch Insp Peter Partridge, from Suffolk Police, said there had been a 9.2% drop in crime in recent years in the county - which was "very much" the picture in Ipswich.

"The town has seen a notable reduction in violent crime, in particular youth-related violence, and work continues to maintain and build upon this," he said.

Ipswich Borough Council was approached for comment.

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