Hart of the Matter
So the summer holidays are over and it’s back to the everyday story of how Haverhill is served by its overlords and representatives. And what a difference a few months can make!
If you can cast your mind back as far as February, when we got the first glimpse of how the much-anticipated town centre masterplan might develop, you may remember there were to be two periods of consultation.
The first was on the issues identified by the consultants, and the second was on their draft masterplan document.
At that time – a matter of a couple of months before the elections – there was great interest in the process, and how democratic it would be.
The whole masterplan project, although nominally under the auspices of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, was being led by One Haverhill, and there was significant concern about the fact that this august body does not meet in public.
At least, however, each stage of the process would be brought before the borough council’s Haverhill Area Working Party, on which were represented other partners in the process, such as the town council and the county council.
In the past there had been some scepticism within the borough about the necessity for this committee, in that it was sometimes cancelled through lack of business to discuss.
Aspiring candidates for election were quick to embrace the view that, as the only public debating forum of local government (above the town council) meeting in public in Haverhill, it should have many more items on its agenda.
They really did not approve of the prevailing view that all these issues were being debated by One Haverhill, and there was no need for duplication. After all, that was not in public so they could not go along and scrutinise it.
When the draft masterplan document appeared one waited in vain for it to be brought before the Haverhill Area Working Party for debate. There was no time, because it was on a tight schedule. So it went out to consultation in July – and a big consultation it was.
Well over a thousand people contributed, we are told, and the results were then taken on board and a revised document prepared for adoption.
But now the political scene has changed. Those who were aspiring have now succeeded. From within the corridors of power they can now see the workings of One Haverhill.
Furthermore, with the restructuring of committees which usually follows an election, Haverhill Area Working Party, it appears, is no more – at least it shows no sign of meeting in the future, although it appears still on the council’s website, with its most recent meeting shown as February 2015.
So the final document came before St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Sustainable Development Working Party last week, meeting in dear old Bury St Edmunds.
Then it moved on to the council’s cabinet this week, and goes to the full council the week after next. And it is not alone.
In parallel, the Sustainable Development Working Party also considered the masterplan for North-East Haverhill, which will bring another 2,500 homes to the town right across the Wilsey and Chalkstone hills.
These are two of the most important documents for the future of Haverhill to have come forward in the past decade or more – certainly since the creation of the Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP).
But it so happens that at this very moment, HAWP is no more and its functions have been subsumed into a Bury-based committee, within the set-up and remit of which, Haverhill members and Haverhill issues are just one element.
I have sometimes questioned the point of having HAWP, when it had so little to talk about. But that was not a wish to have it done away but a wish that important issues were brought along to it so they could be debated in Haverhill with the public present.
That innovative idea appeared to have been taken on board by those aspiring to power before the elections. Now, it has apparently died the death.
One Haverhill is expected to take another vote this month on the vexed question of whether it should open its doors to the public, but I won’t be holding my breath.
The end result is that we are now more shut-out than ever. Of course there has been consultation, but that crucial element for scrutiny, public discussion, is absent.
All the pro-Haverhill, proto-localism, which was created more than a decade ago with HAWP, although initially in private but at least out of Bury St Edmunds and out of the sole control of the borough council, has now gone full circle.
For a while we even had a cabinet member for Haverhill, but that was re-jigged, so it was only a matter of time before the working party went the same way.
Councillors and officers will tell you there has never been a masterplan created in this ultra-democratic way, from within the town and consulted on so widely that it has stimulated the greatest interest in living memory.
But there has also never, in my memory at least, been a masterplan created with so little debate in public by our representatives.
That’s great for them, of course, because it means that when something in it goes wrong, or when, after 20 years we find that hardly any of it has actually happened, neither of which eventuality is particularly unlikely in the light of past events, they can always claim they never liked it, they protested and nobody listened, or they weren’t there at all, and no one can produce any evidence to the contrary.
It’s all about accountability, and how you can evade it.