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Council planning director roasted by business community

Thursday, 15th July 2010.

The head planner of St Edmundsbury told Haverhill business people she wanted the town to grow according to their vision rather than hers - but then outlined why the council was opposed to ideas they raised.

Patsy Dell, planning director of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, had a hot reception as the guest speaker at the Best of Haverhill's monthly business networking meeting at Days Inn in Haverhill this morning.

She had asked for it to be an interactive session, where she gave an introductory talk and then listened to people's ideas about the town's future.

Ms Dell spoke about the major Haverhill schemes - north-west Haverhill and the relief road, Hanchett End business park, town centre regeneration, and the more long term north-east Haverhill development - all of which would see the town grow by half as much again by 2031, she said.

The council had invested an unprecedented 20million in the town and now wanted feedback towards a new Masterplan for Haverhill. "I don't want this to be my vision of Haverhill, but yours," she said.

But once the question and answer session began, she found herself being grilled by her audience about failings in the council's planning strategies, or opposition to ideas which had local backing.

Mick Smith, chairman of Haverhill Association of Voluntary Organisations, suggested the area being considered as the town centre should be expanded so Haverhill was not reliant on a single street.

This would allow retail development as proposed on the former Project site to be included.

But Ms Dell said although this was a good long-term aim, the dynamics of it had to be managed.

"You don't want to threaten the investment you have already made," she said. "You must look at the unintended consequences of that."

Paul Donno of Haverhill Chamber of Commerce asked about the serious need for high-end executive housing in Haverhill, and also why all the long-term development was being focused on north-east Haverhill when sites around Hanchet End had also been put forward.

Ms Dell said the council had made provision in its masterplan of north-west Haverhill for executive housing. Eowever, one of the landowners involved there, Rob Maidment, strenuously disagreed.

He claimed the council had changed the plan and made it impossible for executive housing to go ahead.

"This is most important for the town, and the town council, the two business groups and others are in favour of it, but the borough's masterplan means it will not now happen.

"No one will build half-a-million-pound plus houses where there is going to be three-storey, 40-to-the-hectare housing opposite."

With regard to Hanchet End, Ms Dell said the council had made a careful appraisal of the long-term development, and decided it should go in north-east Haverhill because it was closer to the town centre.

"We don't want more of the 'Hanchet End effect'," she said. "An inspector is looking at our strategy at the moment and he will tell us if he thinks we are wrong."

Next she found herself attacked regarding the shopping offer in Haverhill town centre.

Jenny Bradnam described Haverhill High Street as 'poor'. "You can't buy any quality clothing, sports equipment, DVDs, etc," she said. "If you put down what you can buy in the High Street and then what you can't, that list would be longer."

She wanted to know what the council was doing to attract people into Haverhill.

"I've lived here all my life and I never shop in Haverhill High Street because you can't get anything you want."

Ms Dell pointed to improvement works in Queen Street and Jubilee Walk, but was told: "Nice paving or lamp standards are no good if you can't buy what you want."

Ms Dell conceded the council 'probably should be talking' to Marks and Spencers and similar retailers to tell them the good story of Haverhill and that it was nearly going to double its population.

However, the council could not drag stores here, but only facilitate decisions.

Jenny Bradnam said she had heard this argument for the last 20 years and it was no different now.

Selina Austin said leisure provision had improved enormously, but what was lacking was a train station.

She said: "I've lived here all my life, but I'd like to live somewhere where I could easily reach London. Improvement in the infrastructure would help us not to have to move away from here."

Haverhill Online News

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