Home Page As another one bites the dust, let's look for simple solutions 09/05/14

Haverhill Poll
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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Well, there goes another one. The latest scheme to reduce illegal traffic and parking in the town centre by making Camps Road one-way beside the market square and reversing the flow in the upper part of Mill Road has bitten the dust.


It follows in a long, long line of such schemes which, like the visions in Macbeth, rise in procession to threaten each new idea as soon as it is put forward.


Anyway, the debate had already moved so far from the point at which it was re-ignited some five years ago that the solution now bore little or no relation to the original problem.


Of course, the issue is much more long-standing than that, going back to the earliest days of town expansion, before it was enshrined in the Gibberd Master Plan of 1970.


But, if you can remember just as far back as the most recent manifestation, it grew from concerns raised by members of the public at town council meetings about the dangers of the so-called ‘shared space’ system whereby cars and pedestrians both use the street.


There had been a series of minor bumps and near misses. A little boy was knocked up in the air by a car, but not seriously hurt – that sort of thing, recounted to town councillors, so most of the evidence was anecdotal.


However, it built into a bit of a scare story as such things frequently do. We were told a child would be killed unless something was done. This is the regular mantra of anyone concerned about any traffic issue. I see it was even being trotted out this week about the unmade state of the top part of Quakers Lane.


Anyone who could drive a car along there fast enough to be a real danger to pedestrians should probably take up rallying or at least off-roading.


Highway engineers are so used to being told that, unless something is done, a child will be killed, that they almost certainly switch off completely as soon as they hear it. Sadly, when child pedestrians are killed in road accidents it is most often in places where few if any residents or road-users had actually foreseen a danger.


That then sets something in motion and we get a system which receives general acceptance, like the humps in Chalkstone Way, originally put in place after just such a tragedy. It’s inconvenient, but necessary in a society where motorists sadly cannot be trusted to drive responsibly and considerately along link roads in residential areas.


Lumps and bumps in the high street was another of the ideas floated this time around, although never fully pursued. The town council tied their flag to the one-way experiment to the exclusion of the other ideas, and that has proved to be a dead end.


I have become completely fed up with making the point over and over again that proper pedestrianisation of the high street was only ever going to be possible if a rear access road was built on the south side, as envisaged in the Gibberd Plan.


Instead, I now wonder why, if traffic-calming measures are to be considered again, as I guess they now will be, we cannot go the whole hog and have a combination of such deterrents.


Without losing anything significant from the market square, the entry into the high street from Camps Road could be re-engineered to make it very difficult to navigate, and that would discourage use in a way similar to, if not as totally effective as, a no entry sign. It could force all delivery lorries to enter via Swan Lane at any rate.


The street could be returned to the old format, with proper kerbs, but with raised crossings every 50 or so yards, to make it a nightmare to drive along, yet still possible with care if someone had a real need.


Once that was achieved, the £750,000 which was apparently available for cosmetic improvements to street furniture etc, could, if it still exists, be directed towards all sorts of enhancements, including certain lengths of fixed canopies hung with flower baskets.


All these fairly minor ideas have been floated at one time or another although, on their own, no one of them is likely to prove a panacea. But all together, and cleverly integrated, they could transform the area and yet still make it perfectly usable for delivery vans, for the market, and for disabled people, and safe for pedestrians.


All of this could be achieved without any changes or restrictions to traffic flow, or change to any traffic orders now in existence, and therefore, most importantly, without public consultation.


Down the years, I am sorry to say, it has been public consultation which has generally been the reason why every scheme has foundered and why it appears that nothing has ever been done. There comes a time when elected representatives have to accept that they must carry out the actions which they think best and then deal with the electoral consequences if these turn out to be disastrous.


Asking the public every time is much like generals having to get the agreement of politicians before they implement their tactics. They would never get anywhere. In fact, the First World War gives real-life examples of this.


Councillors looked once before as though they had done this over the high street, but they had neglected to make sure their proposal was legally possible without any form of public inquiry, so it collapsed in the face of costly objections.


But look at another scheme which was carried out in the face of extreme public scepticism – the double mini-roundabout at the Cangle Junction, now spread across about 100 yards since the arrival of Tesco.


No one ever believed that would work, as a way of solving the traffic chaos there, but they did it anyway, and we have never looked back since.

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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