OPINION: Ambitious Ipswich sporting plan will pay off

7:30 a.m., June 13, 2022

It comes as a shock at times to realize that Ipswich Borough Council’s sports facilities – which many people can remember being built – are now turning 40 years old.

Originally state of the art, they are now showing their age and struggling to keep up with the demands of modern sports users. They require higher maintenance expenses every year just to keep them running.

Issues such as climate neutrality and energy costs were not even considered during construction. The community’s largest gas consumers are our swimming pools, and running them is becoming increasingly expensive as gas prices continue to rise.

So if we are to continue to have city run sports facilities available to everyone in Ipswich we will need to replace our existing main sports centers and swimming pool.

This will be a major undertaking that will require careful planning, which is why we have just published our strategy on how we will approach this by 2030.

Our plan is to replace Crown Pools with a new swimming center in the Portman Road car park. The new center will have better recreational water – including the much-requested water slides – a larger gym, better facilities for fitness classes, soft play and a café. The new center is scheduled to open in 2027.

It is not possible to build the new center at Crown Pools’ current site as it is not large enough to accommodate all the facilities required for a modern watersports centre. Retrofitting old buildings to reduce their carbon footprint is very expensive and will never perform as well as a purpose built low carbon building. In addition, Ipswich would have been left without a large swimming pool for at least two years during construction.

We selected Portman Road after an extensive property search and it is the only suitable, available and cost effective location we have found. We think it is important to keep our main swimming pool in the heart of the city, to keep it accessible to everyone in Ipswich and to support the town center businesses. Our already planned multi-storey car park will ensure that there are still enough parking spaces available.

A new sports and athletics center in Gainsborough will feature an eight-seat sports hall, a larger gym and fitness rooms, a new, expanded gymnastics center and an eight-track athletics track, as well as new grass and artificial turf pitches and changing rooms. The opening is planned for 2025.

Sports facilities at Whitton will be the last major development before 2030. These plans are still being developed to ensure the best use of council land in the area and to try and resolve enduring issues such as the crossing of Old Norwich Road and Whitton Church Lane have finally been resolved.

Northgate Sports Center is owned by Suffolk County Council but is currently managed by Ipswich Borough Council on their behalf. As part of our strategy we will focus on Council owned centers and return management of Northgate to the Council.

Some of our new offerings will either replicate or enhance what is currently available in Northgate, for example there is currently a six lane athletics track in Northgate but we will also be providing a new eight lane athletics track in Gainsborough.

All new centers will either be carbon neutral or have a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

New facilities of the quality we are planning are a significant investment so it is reasonable to ask where the money will come from given the ongoing constraints on the community’s finances.

Development will be phased in over the next eight years, so the money doesn’t have to be raised all at once. We anticipate significant grants from a variety of sources which will reduce the amount that the Council will need to raise. There will be a capital gain from the sale of Crown Pools old land which can be offset against the cost of the project.

And the new facilities will be much cheaper to run, require less maintenance than our existing, aging buildings and use less energy. This saving can be used to finance the borrowing to cover the rest of the costs.

This is an ambitious program that will require a lot of hard work to pull off, but it will be worth it. By the end of the decade we will have vastly improved both the quality and quantity of sport on offer across our city with state of the art new carbon neutral facilities of which everyone in Ipswich can be proud.

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