Home Page 'Not too bad at all' - is that all we want for the future? 28/06/13

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Hart of the Matter

The final consultation period for the Vision 2031 planning document about Haverhill has begun and runs for three months – at least, I think it’s the final one, although if the Government planning inspector eventually chucks the whole thing back at St Edmundsbury to be revised, those revisions might have to be consulted on, I suppose.


It’s been pleasing to see in the comments on this website that some people have started looking into the document in some detail. Pleasing and frustrating, because it’s not easy to affect it at all at this late stage.


The time for everyone to get involved was four or five years ago, and although we, along with all the other media covering Haverhill banged on about it at length, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears at the time.


The core strategy document was the first stage, which decided how much new development we would have to accommodate and where it would go.


People on the north side of town kicked up a bit – and are still doing so – about access, about the blurring of boundaries between the town and the villages, and about imbalance in the shape of the town.


Carisbrooke objected that it would be better to put at least a goodly chunk of housing on the western edge of town where people could get to Cambridge more easily, but that was put down to self-interest in that they wanted to develop more of their own sites.


But it all went through fairly calmly and the average resident just switched off at the word ‘planning’. These planners know only too well how to get the biggest decisions through under the guise of something so general that it puts everyone to sleep.


The next stage was drawing up the first draft document, for which consultation was launched with a big event at the arts centre. This time there was a deal of publicity and we were told to put in our opinions about every aspect of life in Haverhill.


And people did make a lot of comments, but they seem to have been somewhat selectively edited in the creation of the draft document and several major issues were either ignored or hidden away.


There was public consultation about this draft and, based on that, they have now come back with their final draft to put to the Government inspector. Along with it will go the public’s comments, to be gathered during this current consultation period.


The inspector will look at the document and test whether it is legally sound and makes sense and he will look at our public comments to see how far the document reflects what we want.


So, in making our comments that is probably the first area to look at – whether the Vision is our vision and whether the aspirations laid out chime with our hopes for the town’s future. As it happens, that seems to be the main area of contention.


The individual policies in the documents are generally so bland that one could scarcely disagree with many of them. But the Vision is seriously lacking.


What is Haverhill like? What do we want it to be like? These are the sort of fundamental questions the document purports to answer and then so signally fails to do so.


The difference between the Vision it puts forward and the aspirations of, I would suggest, most Haverhill people, reflects that age-old difference between Bury’s view of Haverhill and Haverhill’s view of Haverhill.


If one had to sum up what the aspirations in the document amount to in one sentence it might be: "By 2031 Haverhill will be a town where things really aren’t too bad at all’. Is that all we really hope for?


You can see this difference of vision in the recent entrance signs for Haverhill, created by St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP). These are one of the very few achievements of HAWP in the past couple of years.


The other day I was driving through Clare and noticed that town also has new entrance signs. If you put the two side by side, showed them to an outsider and asked him which was for a town of 2,000 people and which was for a town of 27,000 people, I know where I would put my money for his answer.


I don’t think I have seen a less inspired – and, by implication, less aspirational – entrance sign for a town than ours, anywhere.


We continually talk in Haverhill about raising the horizons of our young people. What, I wonder, do they think when they return to the town for a visit while at uni, or when they bring a new friend to see their home town. If they notice the signs at all I would be surprised.


But for the past 40 years at least, prior to these new signs, they could not have failed to notice the entrance to the town, from the days when it used to proclaim proudly: ‘Pioneers in town expansion’.


Now it doesn’t proclaim anything at all. All it says to visitors is that even the people who live here can’t think of anything to say about their town. That is not true. It is St Edmundsbury that can’t think of anything to say about Haverhill - except that in 20 years’ time it is to be hoped it could be a place that really isn’t too bad at all.


The Haverhill residents who are starting to get interested in the Vision 2031 document have some very different things to say. Sadly, it seems unlikely anyone will hear them.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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