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Interview with Matthew Hancock MP

Tuesday, 21st September 2010.

He may only have held the seat for four months, but Haverhill’s new MP Matthew Hancock has rapidly become a well-known face around town. Until his selection as the candidate to replace Richard Spring in January, we had never heard of him and he only knew of us by hearsay, so what does he think of the largest town in his constituency – a town near which he has made his home? Haverhill-UK editor David Hart has been having a chat with him.

Anyone who met Matthew Hancock’s predecessor as MP for West Suffolk, Richard Spring, would probably have concluded they were unlikely to find anyone else more positive about Haverhill than him.

But Matthew is already running him close, thanks both to his introduction to the constituency and to his own recent experience here.

He has moved with his family to live in Thurlow, so Haverhill is their local town, a town he describes as ‘friendly and welcoming’. “It is just a pleasure to live and work here,” he said.

That might not have been the expectation for a man moving out from the Westminster village, where he has a treasury adviser to George Osborne, but Matthew had learned about Haverhill from its best advocate there – Richard Soring.

“I’ve known him for many years and I remember him talking about Haverhill in the past, telling us stories about it in Westminster,” he said. “I heard of it by reputation from someone who is passionate about the town and its people.

“Like many towns it has difficulties and some serious problems, but it is heading in the right direction, and I have, in turn, become passionate about Haverhill.”

He may no longer be an outsider now, but his initial outside viewpoint identified a very interesting split in the way the people of Haverhill view the town.

“I noticed in talking to people of all ages in Haverhill that the younger generation feel very proud of the town in a way that older people sometimes seem not to,” he said.

“There is a new cohesiveness and sense of identity which is palpable. I think being propud of where you come from is something we should value highly.”

People outside the town are also changing their view thanks to the positive view being put forward by businesses and political representatives at all levels. Matthew admits to being ‘unremittingly positive’ himself about it.

“If I come across people who criticise Haverhill, it is people who haven’t been there for a long time or don’t go at all,” he said.

The success of Haverhill businesses is one of the town’s key advantages. “There are few towns with such a successful new business park as the one in Haverhill,” said Matthew.

But he goes a lot further than that – so far that it surprisingly outdoes anything his enthusiastic predecessor ever claimed for the town.

“I don’t see Haverhill as a subsidiary to Cambridge,” he said. “Of course proximity to somewhere of global renown is helpful, but we shouldn’t restrict our ambitions to being a junior partner to Cambridge.”

So what about those ‘difficulties’ and ‘serious problems’ that he spoke of? What areas need improvement?

“The main two are, of course, housing and education,” he said. “The schools are outstanding and have improved no end over the past decade. You can see that in the results and in the comments of inspectors and pupils.

“Both the senior schools are led by extraordinary people. But we have to keep this improvement going.”

On the housing front he said there was a debate about how much new housing was appropriate for Haverhill, and it was necessary to make sure rights decisions were made.

“New housing in the last few years has contributed a lot towards the success of Haverhill,” he said. “It’s up to local government and housing associations to continue that.”

But he raises a third important issue, wit5hin which lies one of his major ambitions for achieving something for Haverhill – transport.

“The proximity to Cambridge is a great advantage, but the Cambridge road is dangerous,” he said. “We must do everything we can to make it safer. One of my ambitions is to see the A1307 improved, but I am realistic about timings because at the moment there is no money. I am prepared to work for it for a long time.”

He hopes the local enterprise partnership (LEP) which succeeds the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) will focus on that, but also says that national representatives like himself have a role to play in keeping the issue up the agenda.

MPs can help to overcome some of the county boundary issues which surround Haverhill, he believes. Since the new Parliament came in in May the Suffolk MPs have been getting together4 for monthly meetings. Five of the seven are new, including Matthew, but the group is chaired by experienced colleague Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, and who at one time included Haverhill in his constituency.

Matthew is unconvinced of Suffolk County Council’s commitment to Haverhill. “St Edmundsbury Borough Council has recognised how important it is to work for Haverhill as much as for Bury,” he said. “The county council does not have that focus. We have to make sure they are more focused on our needs.”

A fourth area for improvement, he agrees, is the town’s retail offer. “There has been improvement in that, but it can get better and draw more people into the town,” he said.

The current debates over planning issues with developers which involve potential retail – at the research park site at Hanchet End, and on the former Project site in Ehringshausen Way – he believes are just a matter of negotiating positions. He has spoken to both council and developers and is confident a way forward will be found.

People often said of Richard Spring that he had Haverhill in his blood. Last week Matthew Hancock gave his first pint of blood at the donor sessions in the town. There is no information as yet about whether Haverhill was imprinted within it, but one wouldn’t be surprised.

Haverhill Online News

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Haverhill, UKPosted by Beefeater at 5:18PM on 21st September, 2010. (87.114.xxx.xxx)

Yes, all very well but Mr Hancock has a serious communication problem. I contacted him on 20th July requesting his help and two months later he has not had the decency to reply - I'm still waiting. Not a patch on Richard Spring I'm afraid....

 

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