Home Page Big plans are coming to fruition, but how soon will we notice? 13/06/14

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Hart of the Matter

The past seven days has been another momentous period in the development of Haverhill, although it will have passed most people by entirely because there are no visible results of it yet, nor will be, probably, for a year or so at least.


Last week planning permission was given for the next phase of residential development in the town – the so-called North-West Haverhill – while yesterday planners gave the go-ahead for the first science and technology building on Haverhill Research Park – interestingly dubbed The Epicentre.


The first will bring over 1,100 new homes – probably 2,500 people – and the second may bring up to 300 jobs, although the plan is clearly that this should start off a process which will eventually bring a lot more jobs to the park, maybe 1,000 or so.


North-West Haverhill is the final piece in the jigsaw to complete the Gibberd Masterplan of 1971, which envisaged building as far as the skyline around the town and no further.


It also envisaged a complete infrastructure to keep traffic flowing around the town and not through it. The world has changed a lot since Sir Frederick Gibberd produced the Masterplan, but this is perhaps the greatest and most significant change.


The Plan never conceived the huge increase in car ownership and traffic movement which has ensued over the past 40 years. The overspill council estates were not designed by people who imagined that virtually every tenant would have two cars.


The Plan never envisaged the massive growth of the supermarket culture. It made no provision for out-of-town shopping, but set aside areas for community facilities dotted around the town, imagining these would be made up of corner shops, pubs, chemists, community centres, etc – in other words little villages.


And, of course, the Plan never envisaged the Internet and how it would affect shopping habits not just by 2014 but way into the future.


It is hardly fair to criticise the Plan on the basis of what no one had ever thought of when it was created. At the time it was an imaginative, forward-looking and exciting plan for a town which everyone expected was about to take off.


That the final piece of it should receive planning permission in the week which saw the death of the town’s MP at the time of its creation, is one of life’s little ironies.


If you had told Sir Eldon Griffiths during one of the consultation meetings which led to the adoption of the plan that the last piece would still have only reached the planning stage by 2014 he would have been shocked and disappointed.


Of course, the impetus for growth was beginning to fade by then, aided by the resentment of the newcomers and their hosts, depicted in the 1968 Man Alive documentary.


Nevertheless, everyone thought a 30,000 town by 1980 was perfectly achievable. It was not because of a failure of planning that it never happened.


If a highly imaginative and well-thought-out plan came such a cropper, what are we to expect of the chaos, confusion, consultation and counter-consultation which has marked the last few years of the debate about Haverhill’s future?


We know that a giant further housing development is lined up in North-East Haverhill, but there is no sign of any infrastructure investment, even along the incomplete lines which attended the 1971 Masterplan.


You may remember the endless saga of the first bypass. There was no money available for that once the Greater London Council had pulled out of the overspill agreement. By 1976 the Echo had carried the immortal front page splash ‘Bye-Bye Bypass’.


We got a bit of it thanks to the emergence of out-of-town shopping, with Sainsbury’s forking out to get it as far as Hazel Stubb – and that was a mixed blessing because the beginning of the deterioration of the high street can, arguably, be dated to that move by Sainsbury’s.


The rest of it only came in the 1990s with Government help thanks to a deputation to Whitehall led by the then MP Tim Yeo – the single good thing which anyone seems to be able to remember that he did for Haverhill – and backed by the town’s industrialists led by Jim Herbert.


That was more than 20 years after the Masterplan was adopted. Let’s hope the new north-west bypass, which is part of the latest planning permission, is here before 2034. The planners will say it is a condition that it is built within five years, but you never can tell.


In the current climate it looks unlikely that development land could lie fallow for years as happened on the so-called ‘Parkway Extension’ (now Park Road) through the 1970s and 1980s, when roads and services were in but nobody would build. In the end it was begun by self-build schemes.


But you never know. Developers can claim it is just not viable to build the road until they have the money for all the houses. The landowners have had to lodge a bond with the council to pay for the road to be completed, but even that is not loophole-proof when it comes to economic necessity – and the road alone, although convenient for motorists, is not much good.


And then what happens about infrastructure for North-East Haverhill? It’s an awful long way from any facilities at all. Cycling looks inviting on paper but not when you see the topography.


It seems to me that the Local Enterprise Partnerships know their stuff when they are prepared to fund work on the research park by loans, but not prepared to get involved with infrastructure for purely housing developments.

They seem to trust Carisbrooke to deliver. The record of the housebuilders in Haverhill down the years does not fill anyone with that sort of confidence.


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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