As I was clearing my desk before Christmas, I received an email from a constituent that wrapped up the year beautifully for me. The lady concerned had written to me before, rightly bemoaning the state of the town centre and the decline she had seen over the past few decades. I responded, saying some of the things I have said in this column many times before: I agreed with her that the town centre had been allowed to decline; we now had a Vision for how to put this right; and that if she were to see for herself some of the very recent changes, she would see progress towards that goal.
Responding, the constituent said this: ‘I went into Ipswich last week and was pleasantly surprised as a lot of the shops had new businesses in them and there was a “buzz” about the place. It is getting back to how it used to be. It is going to take a few years to get everything back on course but this is a fantastic start’.
My lady correspondent could not be more right in her assessment: there are some signs of change; the town centre is undoubtedly better than it was three or four years ago; but it is going to take some time for us to complete all that we want to achieve.
I don’t want people to take me on trust: the only real achievement I’m interested in is not a promise or a plan but hard evidence that something has changed for the better. Let me be brutal: I think people in the town are right to be cynical about the Vision. They have been promised better things time and again. Now we need to deliver.
Likewise on the railways: I have been campaigning hard for a better train service for seven years but so far all that has been actually delivered are some refurbished trains. I know what is about to come but now people need to see it for themselves. I do not resent people for being frustrated that there is not more to show: I am as restless as they are.
I am as keen to see progress for the Wet Dock Crossing, which I have been talking about now for a year but which needs to start in earnest if people are going to get the significant benefits that I know it will achieve.
Whether it is more houses, a further decrease in unemployment, improved facilities at our hospital, more schools Good or Outstanding, or further work on a developing the case for a Northern Route, people want to see progress. We have passed through the phase of exciting promises: now we need delivery.
This then is my mission for the New Year: 2016 needs to be the year of results. I want to be able to write to you this time next year with a new rail franchise that is already delivering a better service. I want houses to be going up on brownfield land in Ipswich so that young people can have the chance of owning their own home. I want there to have been significant progress towards building a Wet Dock Crossing and agreed plans for a Northern Route. I want to be able to report that more schools are Good or Outstanding. And I want many more people to be walking round the town reporting not just that there is a “buzz” about the place but that they share in the ambition to make Ipswich the town I – and an increasing number of our fellow residents – know it can be.