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Rail renewal and A1307 dualling in the spotlight

Friday, 7th February 2014.

The campaign to link Haverhill more efficiently with the wider world, by dualling the A1307 and then by renewing the railway, took a major step forward this morning at a special meeting.

Campaigners had called together all the stakeholders under the chairmanship of Haverhill town mayor Cllr Roger Andre and, despite the floods, most of them managed to be represented at the meeting, hosted in Days Inn.

The newest input to the local debate came from over the border, with, for the first time, Cambridgeshire County Council being represented at the most senior level, both councillor and officer.

Haverhill's MP Matthew Hancock, fresh from duelling with George Galloway and David Starkey on Question Time last night, said the tone of the meeting had been fantastic.

He paid tribute to the chairman of the Cambridge-Colchester Rail Renewal group, the Rev Malcolm Hill, who called the meeting, for his tenacity and clear vision over many years.

"A few years ago I might have been sceptical," he said, "but the Oxford to Cambridge project shows it can be done."

But he said it was a long-term aim and people needed to focus on the dualling of the road in the shorter term, as a 'twin-track' approach.

He said Haverhill was one of the largest towns in the country to have no railway and no dual carriageway link. There was a large hole in the dual carriageway network in East Anglia and Haverhill was right in the middle of it.

Earlier, attendees heard from Cllr Ian Bates, who holds the high-pressure role of growth and planning portfolio holder for Cambridgeshire County Council.

"Haverhill is not forgotten in our strategy," he said. "We all need to work together - with Suffolk, with Haverhill Town Council and the Local Enterprise Partnerships."

He said there was a strong case to be made for rail, but also for other forms of transport, such as a guided bus.

Cllr Bates is in the thick of negotiating with the Government the City Deal for Cambridge - the opportunity to secure huge funding for infrastructure in and around the city.

If they get it, it could mean tens of millions of pounds being made available for the south eastern quadrant including the Haverhill and Saffron Walden corridors.

Mr Hancock revealed he was on the committee which would have to approve the Deal.

Cambridgeshire County Council's head of transport policy and strategy Jeremy Smith said they needed to look at rail as an option themselves, so the Haverhill group's initiative was timely.

But he urged that the only way that either Network Rail or the Department of Transport would even listen to any campaign would be if it could show a wider economic benefit to the region.

He assessed such a study would cost less than 100,000, and it was one of the ideas the meeting agreed to progress.

Representing Suffolk Chambert of Commerce, Haverhill businessman Robert Maidment said the dualling of the road was absolutely vital to local business, while the railway had a more social benefit.

He doubted if a wider economic benefit could be established very easily, but Mr Smith told him experience in Cambridgeshire showed it could and it should be pursued.

Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for transport Cllr Graham Newman was prevented from attending by floods, and the only representative of county council present was Haverhill's Cllr Tony Brown, who said Haverhill was due to grow by another 5,000 houses in the next few years.

Around 90 per cent of Haverhill commuters used the A1307 and it was a bottleneck holding up the growth of the town.

He estimated a rail link would cost around 150million and had only two major obstacles to overcome - the A11 and Horseheath Hill.

A recent meeting he had attended at Ipswich had heard the Oxford to Cambridge project study had established that every 1 spent on creating the railway would bring in 11.

"It might not be as much for Haverhill, but I still think it would be a good return," he said. When those campaigners had approached the Department of Transport they were welcomed with open arms.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council was represented by its economic growth portfolio holder Cllr Alaric Pugh, from Clare, who said he was sorry to see no one from Suffolk County Council present.

It was also, he said, 'sad and crucial' that no representative of Network Rail was present. They needed to be pulled in to the economic argument.

"We need to stop talking about Haverhill as a town of 28,000, as it is at present, but as a significant town of 38,000 as Vision 2031 says it will be," he said.

"At the moment it doesn't have the facilities for a 28,000 town let alone 38,000."

Haverhill town clerk Will Austin said the town council didn't want people to travel elsewhere for things, but recognised it would happen because of Cambridge.

"Haverhill is open for business," he said, "but you can shout that from the rooftops and if businesses can't get to or from our town they won't hear it.

"We agree the A1307 is a starting point but it should be a stepping stone leading to the reinstatement of the rail link."

Peter Wakefield of Rail Futures said he had trundled to Haverhill from Cambridge this morning on a bus taking an hour and 20 minutes which he described as 'a dour journey'.

At the head of Station Road in Cambridge the bus had picked up a large number of people who had walked up from the station and were travelling to the science parks at Abington and Babraham.

He had listened in to their conversations about how it took as long to get from the station to work each day as it did to get to Cambridge from their homes in London.

What was more, although they could work on the train they could not on the bus so it was all lost time.

Tim Thornton pointed out that dualling the A1307 would do nothing to link Haverhill with Cambridge Science Park - where a new rail station is to be built - the route currently being through Cambridgeshire village roads.

Mr Hancock has organised a meeting about the A1307 in March and he agreed to try to get Network Rail to be represented there.

It was also suggested that the local authorities, working together, should now begin to supply the professional support the campaign needed.

Mr Hill said he and his organisation were happy to step aside because they recognised it needed experts to take it forward.

"I am 84 years old and I have a pacemaker which I am told will last until I'm 90," he said, and Mr Hancock joked that that had given the meeting a deadline to get something done.

Haverhill Online News

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