Winerack: A New Beginning

The Winerack. Named by The Ipswich Star and for years now a symbol of our town’s arrested development.

I could go through the sordid history but it will depress you and I want now to cheer you all up. The long and the short of it is that the financing was dodgy, the developers vanished, and the building has been left as a testament visible from throughout the town to the vanity of a credit-driven bubble and speculators’ greed.

Since work finished in 2009 the building has sprouted almost as many urban myths as the buddleias growing at its base. Happily, contrary to well-known taxi fact, the concrete structure does not have cancer. And so – at some considerable risk – it has been purchased by local property developer John Howard, who plans to complete the scheme, starting in January next year.

The Winerack is an important building for me. It demonstrates two things: first, that getting things takes time and you need to be patient. Back in 2011 I intervened to get the administrators sacked and pushed the Irish toxic bank that owned the site to move quicker to a sale. Even so, it took another couple of years before John could purchase the shell and it has taken another three for him to complete all the surveys he needed, redesign the building, sort out the various planning permissions and find a contractor able and willing to take it on. It has been a monster task. When building work eventually starts, it will be the result of six years of hard work by a number of people – any one of whom could have given up, leaving the shell to rot for a few years more. So – patience and grit: it’s a symbol of that.

Secondly, the Winerack has become a metaphor in my mind – and those of many in the town – of our recovery from the devastating recession we suffered seven years ago. Standing there unfinished but full of promise, it is an emblem of the work-in-progress that is our town’s regeneration. All our progress over the past year – funding for the Cornhill, Wet Dock Crossing, Enterprise Zones – has been founded on hard graft in the five years before, almost all of which has been invisible to most Ipswich eyes. We now have the promise but the execution is still to come. So with the Winerack.

Timing is all. I did not want work on the Winerack to re-start until it could be properly funded: the last thing we needed was another fly-by-night developer coming to get hopes up again only for all of us to be let down. But I also knew that we needed to get work going before the next downturn, which would inevitably come our way. As with funding for the Wet Dock Crossing, the Cornhill and – I very much hope – our railway, it may be that we have just got in under the wire. Why? The fundamentals of our economy in Ipswich are now far stronger than they were back in 2008/9: more businesses, employing more people, in an economy that is in better shape than for some time. The challenge we face in the next few months will test our mettle, certainly – but in a good way. For if we can make it through the period of uncertainty that we are now in, we have shown that the town has a sustainable future founded on the hard ground of solid investment, not one built on dodgy developers’ sand.