The modern ruins of Ipswich’s waterfront

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The modern ruins of Ipswich's waterfront
Ipswich Regatta Quay and the “Wine Rack”

The Regatta Quay development on the Ipswich waterfront remains empty as a result of capital flight and inadequate investment and planning policy solutions. The result is a concrete skeleton looming over the town.

The built environment is littered with the ruins of stalled development, from incomplete tower blocks to the concrete skeletons of luxury holiday villas. In the wake of the financial collapse of 2008, such ruins have only increased in their number and visibility, the product of “capital flight”, liquidity crises, and a systematic loss of confidence in private development and the residential market. After all, when the bubble burst, this empire did not disappear. It left traces of itself. The “Regatta Quay” of the British town of Ipswich, even if it was only ever a regional development, has not been spared this fate.

Several years ago, in early 2011, I attended a packed London conference centre with developers from across social housing and commercial development. Early on in the proceedings, the convenor invited the room to indicate how many of those present were overseeing active developments, with “spades in the ground”.

Tellingly, only a few of those hands rose. Perhaps a more interesting question would have been, “how many own a development that has stalled?” Because due to a variety of factors – not least the economic shifts that have occurred as a result of the banking crisis and subsequent recession – landscapes, from the Spanish coast to the centres of European cities, have been increasingly littered with stalled and vacant lots. An unfinished architecture which, in London, in 2012, accounted for some 170,000 homes, stalled, awaiting work to begin, or only half completed – building sites eerily void of activity.

The hulking presence of an unrealised building project loudly underlines the way in which the built environment is first and foremost a projected environment. Projected, that is, by the guarantee of sales and attraction, of matching demand with supply. Where these projections proved illusory, ruins began to appear and they make for a striking lesson in the dependence of local development on wider flows of global finance capital. The “Regatta Quay” of the British town of Ipswich has not been spared this role. […]

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