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Town council appeals for turnout at crucial public meeting

Tuesday, 26th February 2013.

Haverhill Town Council has issued a plea for residents to turn up to a meeting to challenge the county council chief who blocked high street pedestrianisation.

Ever since Suffolk’s transport supremo halted hopes for pedestrianisation of Haverhill High Street last autumn, town councillors have been battling to get him to explain why.

Cllr Guy MacGregor comes to Haverhill on March 11 at the invitation of the Safer Neighbourhood Team, to talk to its public forum, and town councillors are urging residents to attend and challenge him.

Yesterday, town clerk Will Austin issued an appeal on behalf of the council to residents to come along to the meeting at Burton End School, starting at 7pm.

He said it was not only pedestrianisation which was at stake, but the issue of parking and driving in the street, which the council says should be a police matter and which police say they cannot spare the manpower to enforce without detracting from more important jobs like catching criminals.

The new Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, will also attend the meeting to give a police perspective.

But Mr Austin said wider issues were also at stake, particularly the desperate need to expand and improve the town centre, for which pedestrianisation was just the first step.

The statement says: "Of course the 70 per cent of 754 respondents to our survey favouring pedestrianisation between 10am and 4pm will be interested to hear why Cllr MacGregor apparently prefers something called ‘shared space’ – which we understand to be very similar to the existing layout of the High Street.

"They will also want to know how traffic and parking regulations in the high street will be enforced.

"The police have repeatedly said they do not have the capacity, the implication being that when there are officers issuing tickets, there are fewer of them available to combat more serious crimes in Haverhill.

"We should not be asked to make this choice, when there is a viable alternative in closing the High Street to traffic.

"While we urge the community of Haverhill to come to the meeting to take part in the debate, we must remember that this is not just about the immediate problems of traffic and parking and the dangers presented to pedestrians.

"It is about the future of our town centre and its ability to cater for a large and growing population. The latest census figures show that over 27,000 people now live in Haverhill, and this figure is expected to grow by a further 10,000 in the next 15-20 years, making us similar in size to Bury St Edmunds.

"Key areas of our infrastructure are responding to this challenge – business, education, leisure and health sectors are planning for the change. There is even recognition that our transport infrastructure needs to improve.

"But we are left with a town centre that is no bigger than it was 50 years ago, when the population was only 5,500!

"The status quo is not an option – we must have town centre expansion to provide a sustainable way of life for people who live here. The mass shopping exodus to Bury and Cambridge is bad for local business, bad for the environment and bad for the community.

"Our vision is of a town centre that can provide for its own, but in order to attract new shops and visitors, we need a high street that does more than cater for the ‘five-minute shopper’.

"Pedestrianisation is a key aspect of our vision – but not at the expense of those existing businesses that thrive in the current environment, or blue badge holders.

"We are lucky in that we have abundant parking every bit as near to the shops as you’ll find at any out-of-town shopping centre – and making it free and properly accessible is another key aspiration.

"We recognise that these changes present big challenges – but we know that the longer change takes, the bigger the challenges become.

"Haverhill Town Council has a vision for the town centre, and you can see why we think it is in the long-term interests of Haverhill.

"We very much hope the people of Haverhill will join the debate on March 11 to help us develop that vision. At that meeting, we also look forward to hearing how Cllr MacGregor’s vision for the high street will serve the same long-term interests of the community. To date that question remains unanswered.

Haverhill Online News

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