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Businessman holds out against latest plans to close High Street

Tuesday, 18th October 2011.

Plans to close Haverhill High Street to traffic during the day all week would put one of its biggest stakeholders out of business, councillors heard this morning.

Christopher Gurteen attended a meeting of St Edmundsbury Borough Council's Haverhill Area Working Party which was considering new proposals from Suffolk County Council to pedestrianise the street.

Invited to speak as a member of the public, Mr Gurteen told the committee he would maintain his company's strong objections to the scheme.

"If you shut the high street we are just not going to be able to operate," he said. "We also have nine tenants on the site with their hi-tech companies which need to have access for their servicing."

Mr Gurteen said is firm employed 100 people on the site with 64 car parking spaces. All their products were now manufactured in China and came to the site via large lorries, which all used Camps Road, and delivered 20,000 garments a week.

"I am so sad that no one has consulted us about this plan at all," he said. "I don't know what one has to do to be an important business. No one considers Gurteens at all."

Committee chairman Cllr Karen Richardson told him they were only deciding whether to progress the scheme to the stage of public consultation, when the opinions of all stakeholders would be sought.

The latest effort of Suffolk County Council highways engineers to solve the conundrum of Haverhill's town centre pedestrianisation involves closing the Swan Lane junction with High Street and Camps Road completely.

Instead, Swan Lane would be two-way from Murton Slade to Lordscroft Lane, where there would be request traffic signals.

Parking and loading bays in High Street would be drastically reduced, and the car park beside Stourview Medical Centre would be given over exclusively to disabled parking, allowing a level way to the high street via Crown Passage.

High Street would be closed 10am to 4pm Sunday to Thursday and 6am to 6pm Friday and Saturday, to allow for the market. At other times it would have a 20mph limit.

Luke Barber of the county council admitted after questions about Crowland Road that its traffic management would have to be included because traffic which could no longer use Swan Lane would be moved there.

The meeting was held jointly with One Haverhill, so there were a large number of representatives putting forward their views.

County councillor Tim Marks said: "We are in danger of overloading our car parks with blue badge holder preferences. We need to knock some out of other car parks in the town."

Town mayor Cllr Maureen Byrne had concerns for Crowland Road and Camps Road but said they had to be as practical and reasonable as possible.

"We are going to upset some people but I think we will please most residents in Haverhill," she said.

Members were keen that a wider view should be taken of traffic management in the town, to include the effects of the new plan on Eastern Avenue and Hamlet Road as well as Camps Road, Mill Road and Crowland Road.

Cllr Gordon Cox had a simple solution in mind. "I would like the option of closing the street 24/7 to be included in the consultation," he said. "There has been to much messing about. That way at least everyone woyuld know where they stood."

He thought businesses should have to get round access problems, perhaps using a sack barrow, as they would when delivering goods to a customer who lived some way from the roadway.

PC Will Wright thought the Swan Lane traffic light plan wouldcause even more problems with traffic around there, particularly crossing to Tesco.

"I consider myself able-bodied but sometimes I find it difficult even to get to the first island there," he said.

Cllr Pat Hanlon threw in a radical new idea when he asked if there was any reason the one-way traffic flow in High Street could not be reversed.

Mr Barber said that had not been investigated so far, but could be if members wanted it.

The chairman of Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Sarah Howard asked why the market had to go into the street on Fridays because it would not be popular with shopkeepers.

"Most shops don't like it being there on a Saturday," she said. "We have a perfectly good market square. Offering to drop that might be a good trade-off for access with the shopkeepers who would rather not have it in the street."

Town clerk Gordon Mussett urged the county council to resurrect the idea of linking Lower Downs Slade into Camps Road to offer an alternative traffic route.

He was supported by St Edmundsbury chief executive Geoff Rivers who said it seemed an obvious route and should be brought forward.

Mr Barber said that idea had not been completely discarded, but put back becuse of the work it needed and the number of landownerships involved which made it very complex.

Cllr Guy McGregor, the county council's portfolio holder for transport who will be closely involved in the final decision about what is to be done, said: "Above all we want to ensure we have a vibrant town centre here and we do what is needed to achieve that."

Cllr Marks said it was important to include Crowland Road so that the scjheme didn't collapse over that issue. "We must not do this piecemeal but wholly, completely and for the last time," he said. "And let's get the job on the road."

The latest plan replaces the last one which would have used Quakers Lane as an exit from High Street, but which new investigations by the county council have established to be unworkable.

Mr Gurteen said he had had to employ solicitors to represent his firm's interests over that scheme.

"That has cost me 15,000 and now you have torn up the whole scheme and we have to start again," he said. "But I can tell you I am not prepared to be put out of business by you closing the high street."

Two other members of the public attended and were allowed to speak. Marty House, who uses a mobility scooter, said the new car parking plan for blue badhe holders was a good proposal.

She felt the shared space system was dangerous and wanted Queen Street, at least, to be closed all the time.

Dudley Mynott, who has lived in Crowland Road for over 40 years, said traffic there had increased enormously, including heavy goods vehicles.

He thought it needed to be made one-way towards Withersfield Road from Downs Crescent, particularly for the free passage of emergency vehicles.

But he recalled how some people living at the foot of Crowland Road had their houses compulsorily purchased many years ago for a wider road to be created as part of an inner ring road, but the road was never built, which was why the problems existed now.

Members agreed the proposals should go out to consultation, but including issues of traffic management in Crowland Road and Mill Road.

After the meeting, Cllr Karen Richardson praised the efforts of the county council highways engineers, who had inherited the problem from their predecessors in the job quite recently.

"I'm extremely impressed with the efforts of Suffolk County Council when they have had such a short space of time to bring this to us," she said.

"I am very much in favour of the scheme."

There is 750,000 available from the borough council's growth area funding to improve the design of the street, hopefully once the traffic regulation orders have been put in place.

Haverhill Online News

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