Latest from Ben Gummer

In his column in the Star yesterday, Paul Geater sharpened his pen and made a typically perceptive critique of how far the Ipswich Vision had got in its first eight months. He observed that whilst the aspirations were sound, not much progress had yet been made. He singled out the fact that Suffolk County Council had not made any progress on Queen Street, the Borough had only just got on with a replacement for Crown Street, and the LEP had still to decide on whether they would support the redevelopment of the Cornhill.

He is, in essence, right: no one in Ipswich will believe that the Vision adds up to more than a row of beans until they see things begin to change as a result of what we have done. So Paul is right to push for real delivery. None of our good words means anything until it translates into the better town centre we all want to see. Warm sentiments don’t create jobs, improve incomes or make our town a more pleasant and attractive place to live, work and shop.

But this much I would say. I have learned a few things in my time as Member of Parliament, things I did not understand before I was given this responsibility. It is the easiest thing in the world to say “oh just get on and do it” but actually very difficult to do it when it involves public money and public property. It is why top business people, when they are brought into government, do not always produce the miracles that people imagined they would repeat from their private sector days.

I’ve found that the day the builders arrive on site is the day when the hard work has actually been completed. It takes phenomenal effort to bring big public projects forward – an effort that is almost doomed to fail if you are trying to do it on your own. And that is why the Vision Board is so important. We have spent the last eight months carefully planning, debating and plotting to ensure we have the right priorities and enough money to see the town transformed in the next few years. This has been our preparatory time: it has been hard work but we have achieved so, so much. And the result? Well, what you are about to see this year – from the station forecourt to Queen Street to the new Innovation Centre in UCS – will be the first fruits of that co-ordinated effort. And there is much, much more to come.

To give you an example, although there appears to have been a delay before the Borough starts on a new Crown Street car park, it is because they have made sure – through the Vision Board – that we are getting the right car park, in the right place, with the right number of places. The result is that we will be getting a far better end product that if they forged ahead last year without doing, with us, the preparatory work that was needed.

But that is to miss the main achievement of the last eight months, which is this: simply coming together. I have watched as trust has gradually built up and people who a year ago did battle with each other now work as a real team. That change takes a little time – but when done, means that we will move at a pace that has not been seen in this town for over a hundred years. So, there has been incredible progress over the last few months – and in the coming year Ipswich people will see that translated into bricks, mortar and a better town.

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