Home Page A wonderful opportunity that has nearly passed us by 26/03/10

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

It is not difficult to understand why people generally have a poor view of their public representatives nowadays – and not just because of the scandal of MPs’ expenses.

Although there is an important principle at stake, much of the discontent is about lack of results, rather than corruption. Are we seriously saying that, if there was someone around who, by sheer genius, could come up with convincing and successful measures to solve all the country’s current difficulties, we would grudge him or her a few perks on the side?

No. The problem is that these rip-off merchants of all parties have failed to deliver on their promises. They proved inept and unfit for the task, so to find them with their noses in the trough at our expense is just too much to stomach.

The same, to a rather lesser degree, applies within local government as well. In general, sadly, people have a rather low opinion of their local councils. As is the case with their MPs, they probably rate their own councillor quite highly if they know who it is and have had any dealings with them. But the bunch of them together are not esteemed or thanked.

The cause is partly the failings of councillors – or, more particularly, officers, because they are extremely highly-paid professionals – and partly, I suspect, the contrary nature of things, usually called bad luck.

However, as Gary Player used to say, the harder I practise, the luckier I get – in other words, capable people generally make their own luck, and vice versa.

Over the past 50 years Haverhill has lurched from one stage to the next, most of them depressing, some of them encouraging, and despite the word Masterplan having been writ large on many occasions, an overview of where we are now, even during the current encouraging phase, shows an extraordinary lack of planning and foresight.

Planners will soon be working on another Masterplan for Haverhill, as if the very idea were a magic wand. Yet everywhere we see evidence that things have not been planned at all, and have often, therefore, fallen out very unluckily.

Consider the position with the redundant school sites. If we had known about school re-organisation some years ago, how differently many issues might have been approached. Remember how Tesco had to be accommodated at Station Yard because there were no other sites in the town big enough available? It hasn’t turned out too badly in the end – fortunately.

Think of the money that has been spent and is being spent on new facilities – Clements surgery and Cartwheels, the football project, etc – on the edge of the town.

St Edmundsbury is trying to offload management of its community centres. They have done good service since they were built 40 years ago, but they are not the most attractive or welcoming places.

We now have two schools becoming available within the estates, which would make far better community centres. One will become a residential care home – much-needed and an excellent plan, but not specific to any particular site, considering the level of care it is aimed at. The other will be demolished.

If ever I came across a plan that is completely bonkers, it is that Clements Primary School must be knocked down and the site levelled, as part of the land-swap deal between Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, while the nearby Leiston Community Centre struggles on with limited facilities, a continuing beacon of the commitment of local residents but likely to become more and more difficult to sustain. Who agreed to that?

This week a new scheme came forward for redeveloping the former Project factory site in Ehringshausen Way for retail and business use. I note the planners do not consider it to be a suitable location, preferring the large empty space, presumably.

One of the reasons for this will be that it is not allocated for that use in whatever stage of the interminable local planning process we have reached.

Remember the last town centre Masterplan? The one that showed a new bus station and a lake between the leisure centre and Jubilee Walk? Strangely enough there was no allocation of a cinema or restaurants in that plan. Didn’t seem to mean a lot, though, when the chance came up and it was what the council wanted.

It is unlucky, I suppose, that a retail plan comes forward for a site some distance from the town centre, just when everyone was hoping one might come forward for a site right in the town centre, Gurteens.

But, like I say, I think you make your own luck, either through careful planning (missed out on that) or by seizing the moment, as St Edmundsbury did with the cinema. The school re-organisation presents a one-in-a-generation opportunity. Unless our representatives wake up soon, it will have passed us by.

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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