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Traffic chief ducks issue at showdown meeting on town centre

Tuesday, 12th March 2013.

The much-anticipated visit of Suffolk County Council’s transport supremo to Haverhill to explain the axing of High Street pedestrianisation turned out to be less of a showdown and more of a damp squib.

Cllr Guy MacGregor had brought along council officers to explain their current plans for ‘shared space’ and ‘connectivity’ and showed little inclination to take on the arguments of a packed meeting at Burton End School hall.

Over 70 people turned out to the public forum of the town’s Safer Neighbourhood Team, which had invited Mr MacGregor to explain his decision to end efforts to achieve pedestrianisation.

He began by hyping up hopes for the re-instatement of the Bury St Edmunds to Stansted Airport bus, via Haverhill, which would provide a 100-minute journey to the West End.

When residents asked him to nfocus on the issue they had asked him to come and talk about, he handed over to the highways officer responsible, Suzanne Buck, to talk about making part of Camps Road one-way, and the merits of ‘shared space’, and list places in England and abroad where it was in successful operation.

Audience members were permitted to ask one question each, with town clerk Will Austin outlining the town council’s case in favour of pedestrianisation and eliciting the first round of applause of the evening.

Residents spoke of the vitality in the street on Saturdays, the only day it is pedestrianised, and asked why this could not be tried all week as an experiment. They were told this was not possible legally, due to objections from stakeholders.

They asked about a rear service road and were told the land was not available. They urged the county council to make sure they got the scheme right and did not waste any more money.

Some residents said the inability of the police to enforce parking and traffic regulations was ‘unacceptable’. Suzanne Buck said she had ‘some sympathy’ with that view, but understood the police had other priorities on limited resources.

Then residents began to complain that Cllr MacGregor and the county council were not interested in listening to what they had to say and didn’t care, which led Cllr MacGregor to make a vigorous defence of his efforts to improve Suffolk market towns.

At this stage, Haverhill county councillor Tim Marks, who was chairing the meeting, closed the question and answer session with several residents still waiting to ask their questions, because, he said, they were running over time.

Cllr MacGregor then left the meeting and disgruntled residents followed him and tried to continue their protests in the foyer, while Suffolk’s new Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, another guest speaker, began to talk about his hopes for improving policing.

He said he had seen how high feelings were running during the debate and promised to look into the staffing of Haverhill police sector.
No one actually asked Cllr MacGregor to justify his decision directly to the meeting, and he did not attempt to.

He merely stated that after the elections in May, there would be an ‘all-day seminar’ in Haverhill on the issue to bring all stakeholders together.

A similar seminar was held last week in Sudbury where the county council wants to pedestrianise the high street and the town council is opposing it.

The county council plans for the street, outlined by Ms Buck, involve making the stretch of Camps Road beside the market square one-way southbound.

She claimed a traffic survey had shown that 60 per cent of traffic driving into High Street came from this direction, which would reduce usage greatly.

Mr Austin responded that drivers used the street to stop in and not to nip through, so they would just find another way to get there.

She explained the 'shared space' theory whereby car speeds are supposedly reduced by having to share priority with pedestrians, and highlighted a small stretch on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds and an area of Hamilton Street in Felixstowe as successful examples of this in Suffolk.

One resident said he had visited Hamilton Street at the county council's suggestion and found it choc-a-bloc with parked cars, only two of which had blue badges. Retailers there told him the scheme was a nightmare.

Mr Austin said he had spoken to the town clerk at Felixstowe who said there were still several iissues to sort out. The two places were not comparable so he doubted whether the solutions would be.

Chris Cullum suggested a trial period of pedestrianisation for six months, but was told there were legal difficulties.

Ian Johnson said Haverhill Chamber of Commerce had urged pedestrianisation in 1974, with a rear service road for all retailers, but this had not been provided on one side.

"A lot of money has been spent on tinpot schemes in High Street - planters, paving stones - and on police time, and we are no further forward.

"Rear servicing is needed. It is the county council highways' responsibility and the money should not be spent on tinpot schemes."

Ms Buck said the land was not in the county council's gift to achieve that. "There may have been an opportunity in the past but there is none at the moment," she said.

Rob Maidment said the current Chamber of Commerce urged a link from Camps Road to Withersfield Road which could be achieved by purchasing a small piece of redundant beer garden, to aid traffic flow.

Ms Buck said a thorough study of this idea was to be done later this year.

Mr Maidment told Cllr McGregor: "I am concerned that the county council is not interested in what we have to say here in Haverhill."

Town councillor Clive Turner said he had experience of shared space in various countries around the world and he didn't believe it worked.

He pleaded with the county council not to spend the nearly £1million available for improving the town centre until they were sure they had got the scheme right.

Town councillor Maureen Byrne asked Cllr MacGregor how he reconciled ignoring the wishes of residents with his authority's commitment to localism.

This drew more applause and general accusations that he didn't care what residents thought. Cllr
MacGregor took advantage of that to avoid answering the question and launch into his defence of his commitment to improving the quality of Suffolk's market towns.

"To suggest I am not interested in Haverhill just isn't true," he said.

Another residents described the high street as the town's major car park. Car parks were getting emptier and emptier and people were taking advantage of this 'major car park in the town which costs nothing for three hours'.

Until the regulations were properly policed, he said, nothing would change.

Suzanne Buck claimed shared space would be 'self-enforcing'.

George Hatchell urged that Swan Lane be made two-way to allow motorists to get out into Lordscroft Lane.

At that point Cllr MacGregor had had enough and Cllr Marks attempted to close the discussion. Some residents tried to go on asking questions and when Mr MacGregor left, they followed him out to pursue their protest.

Mr Passmore then spoke about his hopes for Suffolk police and their attempts to rebalance staffing in the light of the enormous resources now needed to deal with the night-time economy in the big towns on Friday and Saturday nights.

Ipswich needed five times as many police on the streets then as at any other time.

He revealed that Suffolk police's ICT was 'a shambles'. "The amount of time these poor guys have to waste because their technology doesn't work is just unacceptable," he said.

Some residents also called for the return of a traffic warden, which the county council has opposed, and Mr Passmore said he would look into it.

Haverhill Online News

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