Home Page 2012 - a year with more than its share of good and bad 28/12/12

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Hart of the Matter

It’s been a funny old year. If it wasn’t for all the austerity going about, we’d day it was one of the best years ever, thanks to the summer of British achievement. If it wasn’t for the summer of British achievement, we’d say it was one of the worst years ever because of the austerity – and the weather.


So it was a mixed year at national level and much the same could be said of Haverhill’s 2012. There have been a lot of reasons to celebrate during the year, and yet at the end of it all we are left with a feeling of frustration at what is not being done.


On the plus side we can look at how far Haverhill Research Park has come – from a few lines on a map and a bit of a gamble, via some interesting archaeological work during the summer to deals on the housing element (July), the new pub (Sept) and the infrastructure (November).


We saw the new Westfield School opened in April at a cost of £7million, and now we know a new free school for children with special educational needs will be built next to Samuel Ward – and there is the chance of a new free school for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, too.


On July 7 we experience the unforgettable parade of the Olympic Torch through Haverhill, and all through the summer the flags and bunting put up for that were retained during the Olympic jollifications. Now we gather a similar flagfest is to be a regular feature of Haverhill’s summers.


We have our first Haverhill mayor of St Edmundsbury for a decade, and we have had all sorts of VIPs taking an interest in the town this year, including Princess Anne at Samuel ward in September, the secretary of state for communities Eric Pickles at the Hanchet End research park site in November, the secretary of state for employment Chris Grayling at the Jobcentre in May, and the BBC’s Any Questions in November.


There is to be a brand new care home to replace Place Court, a makeover for the churchyard, a new base for St Nicholas Hospice services in the town and, in all probability, Puddlebrook’s old adventure playground site is to be brought back into use as an activity area for youngsters.


ONE Haverhill, the new body which draws together all service providers and aims to make sure their money is spent more effectively, is now part of a national pilot scheme, one of just 12 nationwide, and it has led to Haverhill being compared with Ilfracombe.


In August a Haverhill resident and his wife picked up the second largest jackpot in British history, £148million on the Euromillions lottery. They vowed to stay around here, and although his music shop has closed and they’ve bought a vast estate, it’s still quite close by.


So things are looking good, so far – until we look at the negative pile on the other side of the scales.


The Crown Health Centre was closed at the end of July, three months earlier that stated, throwing health services in the town into a panic from which a clear picture has not yet emerged. Two of the highlights of the year for cynic like me who observe all this stuff, were the two meetings, one in January and one in April, at which the hapless Martin Royal of NHS Suffolk turned up to be ritually slaughtered by criticisms he could not answer and, frankly, appeared not to care very much about anyway.


Public meetings in general have had a good year. The Safer Neighbourhood Team public forums produced a continuous theme of frustration for all concerned as the High Street’s potential pedestrianisation scheme took centre stage again.


In January, Suffolk County Council published its latest scheme for consultation, including a traffic ban, to be defended at public inquiry if need be.


The consultation on that produced a poor response, which gave the objectors their chance and they took it with both hands. At a Haverhill Area Working Party meeting in March there was a petition from the traders and a report from the county engineers based on the consultation, that a traffic ban was not now deliverable.


The bombshell thrown that day has not stopped reverberating through the town since. HAWP pulled back from the traffic ban, the town council were so furious they carried out a survey of their own, and the public vented their frustration by insisting police enforce the traffic and parking regulations properly.


Our new police inspector had hoped this drain on his resources was not going to be resurrected again, but he hoped in vain. Through the rest of the year the public continued to pressure him, most notably at a fiery public meeting in September, to DO SOMETHING.


Days of action were promised, and the first one showed hundreds of people using or attempting to use the street within a two-hour period, many of them legally. Ninety-three disabled blue badge holders were among them.


The Suffolk transport supremo has directed no further efforts be made towards pedestrianisation, and so the saga goes on.


Meanwhile, Haverhill Town Council is contesting various decisions by Suffolk County Council – the fate of the Burton Centre and the future of the county’s care homes among them.


The county council has had about as disastrous a year as one could imagine in Haverhill, with everything that goes wrong seeming to be traceable to its failings. Probably the worst was a tale which unfolded through the spring.


In March police warned of the dangers of the empty redundant school buildings becoming targets for vandals. In April there was arson at Castle Hill and the warning was repeated. After pressure the county said it would demolish the buildings within six weeks.  Again it failed and early in June Castle Hill was destroyed by a blaze which pre-dated the jubilee beacon by exactly a week and was a lot brighter. No one could be proved to have been responsible, police announced in August. For many, it was Suffolk County Council who deserved at least some of the blame.


So what of the future and 2013? This year he heard that the 2011 census has revealed Haverhill is nearly at the 25,000 population mark, thought to be a bit of a tipping point, although just what it will tip us into is unclear.


A film in riposte to the bleak picture painted by a BBC Man Alive documentary in 1968 was aired in June, showing how we have come on in 40-odd years. In November Any Questions? regurgitated its profile of the town from 2006 when its last visit annoyed people. This time there was enough protest to get the BBC to change it for the repeat. So we progress – slowly. No doubt that will continue over the next 12 months, and you’ll be able to read all about it here.

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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