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Town centre proves the main issue at ONE Haverhill forum

Thursday, 23rd October 2014.

ONE Haverhill, the partnership which brings together local authorities and other stakeholders to improve the town, held its first public forum in more than two years on Wednesday.

The forum was an opportunity to launch ONE Haverhill's annual review, which listed its successes and looked forward to the future work it was now taking on.

ONE Haverhill has impressed people in Government to a degree that, having been one of 12 national pioneers in community budgeting, its members are now mentoring other towns in similar projects, as part of the Government's Our Place agenda.

Despite its successes and its praise at a national level, ONE Haverhill has caused controversy locally by holding its meetings in private, so this was the first chance for the public to ask questions of its board members, who were lined up to reply.

Many of the public questions centred around the latest challenge for ONE Haverhill, in which it has been asked by St Edmundsbury Borough Council to lead the process of drawing up a masterplan for the town centre.

The borough's cabinet member for economic growth, Cllr Alaric Pugh from Clare, is a member of ONE Haverhill, and he was asked by Damien Howard of Gurteen's how this process would fit into the legal planning framework.

Cllr Pugh said it would fill a void in the Vision 2031 document and would be put together by the local community, even though it would have to go through the statutory legal process as well.

It would enable Haverhill to be marketed to the development industry with the whole story in facts and figures, which had never been done before.

Then, hopefully, developers would take an interest and the retail offer would perk up.

Asked by Ian Johnson about involvement in the masterplan for north-east Haverhill, Cllr Pugh said if St Edmundsbury found the town centre project worked well, it might be a chance for ONE Haverhill to be part of the north-east Haverhill planning, and other major developments, which would be an interesting innovation.

As far as is known this is the first time such a plan has been developed in this way, and not purely by local authority planners, anywhere in the country.

But some members of the public remained sceptical about ONE Haverhill as an organisation.

David Kennedy said he saw no members of the public on the board, and had never heard of ONE Haverhill until recently.

"It's time it was opened up," he said, and suggested they hold a stall on the market.

Other residents said they were unhappy at what they perceived as the decline of the town centre over the years, particularly recently, with important independent shops closing or moving to Bury St Edmunds.

John Mayhew, who represents the Chamber of Commerce on ONE Haverhill, replied that he did not agree the town centre was in decline at all.

In comparison with many towns in Britain Haverhill was doing quite well, he said. Youth unemployment was down 46 per cent, which was a good indicator.

He said it could be improved by all individuals doing their bit, but there was a great deal to be confident about.

"We can make this a plan which is not developer-led, so that what ends up being developed in ten, 12 or 15 years' time will be what we want," he said.

But residents pointed to the boarded-up Bell, the derelict Corn Exchange and the shut-down former Co-op. Landlords should be forced to do something about their empty properties, they said.

Town mayor Cllr Roger Andre, also a member of ONE Haverhill, replied that the town council was trying to do all these things.

The decline of high streets was a factor in every town, and there was a specific problem over the Co-op.

"Individual organisations, the town council, the borough council and the county council have all failed Haverhill and that's what we are here to change," he said.

Cllr Pugh said there had been a masterplan created for the town centre in 2004, as a result of which the town had got Tesco and the cinema complex, but the brownfield sites identified in the town centre had not been developed because house building had slowed right down due to the economic crash.

It was early days yet and they had set themselves an ambitious timescale, but there was already the result of a lot of past work in surveys and consultations to build on.

They hoped to have an exhibition in the town early next year which would show all the issues and the options available for people to comment on.

Resident John Burns asked him if there was any guarantee that the eventual plan would not be altered at the drop of a hat as the last one had been, containing no mention of the cinema which came forward as a plan only a few months later.

Cllr Pugh said that was not his understanding of what had happened, but in the nature of things opportunities had to be taken when they presented themselves.

"Hopefully developers will want to build an exciting new town centre," he said.

It would centre around Jubilee Walk, he said, and he added that the borough council had put an enormous amount of effort into trying to sort out the issue with the Co-op but, as yet, without any success.

Haverhill Online News

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