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'Historic moment' for Ipswich as plans for upgrade to sports facilities, including new aquatics centre, green lit



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Plans for a revamp of Ipswich sports facilities that will see a brand new aquatics centre being built have been approved by council chiefs in a meeting dubbed a 'historic moment' for the town.

Ipswich Borough Council's executive on Tuesday night unanimously agreed its 2022-23 sports facilities strategy.

The headline schemes under that plan include proposals to close Crown Pools and replace it with a modern, low-carbon aquatics centre in the Portman Road car park, and a new sports and athletics facility at the current Gainsborough Sports Centre.

Artist impression of the new aquatics centre planned for Portman Road by Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: IBC
Artist impression of the new aquatics centre planned for Portman Road by Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: IBC

The authority has also pledged investment for a new carbon-neutral facility for Whitton area, although those plans are still in development.

Elsewhere, the authority says it will hand back management of Northgate High School community sports facilities to Suffolk County Council, make Fore Street baths more energy efficient and continue to support Fusion in restoring Broomhill Lido.

Land designated for sport at Ravenswood will be developed as pitches and a pavilion, the council confirmed.

Artist impression of Gainsborough Sports Centre. Picture: IBC
Artist impression of Gainsborough Sports Centre. Picture: IBC

Labour councillor Martin Cook said it was a 'historic moment' which represented 'once in two generations' level of investment.

"I think it's a really exciting development for the town," said Bryony Rudkin, Labour portfolio holder for sport.

"Back in March we adopted the sport and physical activity strategy - this is the facilities part of that.

"It recognises that we have two main priorities. First of all providing modern, low-carbon swimming facilities in the town centre, and that we provide modern carbon-neutral community-based sports facilities elsewhere in the town as well.

Bryony Rudkin, Labour deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
Bryony Rudkin, Labour deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council

"It's been heartening to see that in general people have welcomed it, and the concerns that people have perhaps around transport links are things that can be resolved as part of the ongoing process.

"I think its been really important for us as part of the regeneration of the town centre that the leisure offer is a key part of that economy, so having an aquatics centre in the town centre is really important.

"This is something to be really proud of and be really excited about."

The Gainsborough development, due to be open by Easter 2025, will feature an eight-court sports hall, bigger gym and fitness suites, expanded gymnastics space and eight-lane athletics track.

The aquatics centre meanwhile, planned for opening in 2027, will feature flumes, larger gym area, fitness class space, soft play facilities and cafe.

The old Crown Pools site, which has been open since 1984 and been a flagship building in the town, is then likely to make way for flats or commercial use facilities.

The projects are expected to be staggered over the next eight years, with hopes of central government grants and other funding pots to help finance the schemes. Detailed business cases will be drawn up for those as they come forward.

It is understood the costs of maintaining Crown Pools are considered to be too high, with the new facilities meaning costly upgrades won't be needed there.

Ian Fisher, Conservative councillor at Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
Ian Fisher, Conservative councillor at Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council

Ian Fisher, leader of the opposition Conservative group said he was 'fully behind the redevelopment of these facilities' but said he had worries about the lack of provision in the south west of the town.

He added: "The question is with us being the most uncertain times we have had financially for quite some time surrounding interest rates, can we afford it?"