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Haverhill councillor chairs St Edmundsbury rejection of town rail link idea

Wednesday, 25th September 2013.

The commitment to the town of a Conservative St Edmundsbury borough councillor for Haverhill has been publicly questioned after she chaired a committee which has agreed to urge Cambridgeshire to drop any idea of renewing the rail link.

Cllr Karen Richardson chairs St Edmundsbury Borough Council's sustainable development working party, which last week approved a recommendation to oppose the railway idea.

Cambridgeshire County Council's draft transport strategy for the city and south Cambridgeshire has just been published and includes a long-term option to consider renewing the link to Haverhill either by rail or guided bus.

The working party was considering how St Edmundsbury Council should comment on the draft strategy and received a report from officers recommending rail renewal should not be supported.

The relevant item in the report says: "Given the significant costs of creating new rail lines, the proposal for reopening the rail line to Haverhill and beyond is extremely ambitious.

"From a practical point of view in Haverhill, the site of the former station has been redeveloped through the arrival of the Tesco supermarket and much of the railway route west of this location would be difficult to re-instate due to more recent development and the noise and environmental impact created by the of operation of railways.

"This suggests that, if a railway were to be reopened, the new station should be to the west of the town centre.

"This then creates the problem as to the route beyond Haverhill if rail were to continue to Colchester. The route through Stoke-by-Clare, Clare and Cavendish has all been lost through various actions and would be difficult and costly to re-instate, as well as potentially having a detrimental impact on the amenity of residents in all these settlements along its route.

"Officers do not consider that such a proposal could be supported at this time given the urgent priorities to make the A1307 safer and that the focus of the Cambridgeshire authorities should be towards the provision of a high quality, fast and frequent bus service along the route of the A1307."

The working party, which also includes one of Haverhill's county councillors, Anne Gower, approved the recommendation, which went before St Edmundsbury's cabinet yesterday for approval.

Haverhill town clerk Will Austin reported the decision to last night's meeting of Haverhill Town Council.

He also reported the working party's approval of the controversial Vision 2031 document for Haverhill, against which the town council had put together a long series of concerns.

Cllr Richardson also chairs the Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP) which approved the draft Vision 2031 for Haverhill in June.

Last night, Cllr Maureen Byrne, who was unable to attend the sustainable working party meeting for health reasons, said she was 'incensed' at its decisions, particularly because it was chaired by a Haverhill councillor.

"She is also the chair of HAWP and I can't believe that she let it go through. I question how she represents the residents of the town.

"I think we should question Cllr Richardson about what she sees as her role in representing Haverhill."

Conservative town councillors agreed wholeheartedly. Cllr Clive Turner said: "This is core to Haverhill and it is utterly abhorrent that we have not been listened to."

Members instructed the town clerk to attend the next full council meeting of St Edmundsbury and raise a question about the rail issue and the concerns of the town council about Vision 2031.

Cllr Byrne said he should also question Cllr Richardson's commitment to the town, but Mr Austin said that would have to be done through some other forum.

St Edmundsbury did not have to make a formal response at all to Cambridgeshire's draft strategy, but equally, Cambridgeshire do not have to take any notice of St Edmundsbury's views.

More than 90 per cent of any rail or guided bus line would be in Cambridgeshire, and it is the problems of Cambridge's commuting employees which which that county is trying to address.

St Edmundsbury's officers question whether there are really that number of people living in Haverhill and working in the Cambridge area.

In their recommendation they say: "The focused approach to this corridor as part of this draft Strategy is welcomed.

"The perception, yet to be borne out by 2011 Census figures, is that a large proportion of Haverhill residents work in Cambridge.

"Improving the attractiveness, speed and frequency of bus services along this route would potentially manage congestion by transferring trips from cars onto buses.

"However, it is considered that more research is needed to understand the nature of trips along this corridor.

"Currently buses from Haverhill go to Cambridge city centre. It is not clear whether this route even if it was enhanced, would be attractive to those, for example, that work at the Science Park to the north of the city if it requires changing buses.

"It is therefore essential that improvements to services are also considered along with infrastructure investment."

Cllr Richardson is not the only councillor to come under scrutiny over the decision. The issue is part of the remit of St Edmundsbury's recently appointed portfolio holder for economic growth, Cllr Alaric Pugh, who represents Clare.

Haverhill Online News

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