Home Page Bury chiefs will be baffled by this brush with Haverhill reality 28/02/14

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Hart of the Matter

In so far as one can have an independent view of the balance in St Edmundsbury between spending on Bury St Edmunds and on Haverhill, outgoing Haverhill town clerk Will Austin was as close as one can get.


He came here from Devon less than three years ago knowing little or nothing about Haverhill, and now he’s heading back there, so has nothing to gain and no future axe to grind. He’s not a politician but he is a local government officer of some experience, so is able to interpret the byzantine world of council finances accurately.


The farewell salvo he fired at St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s budget-setting meeting on Tuesday was cogent and well-argued, and represents the view of all parties on the town council, including the Conservatives, but will doubtless be ignored by the Tories in control at Bury, partly because they will be as baffled and bewildered as ever by such an outburst.


To an independent observer it would be hard to deny the imbalance which he pointed to. St Edmundsbury councillors’ defence, supported shamefully by Conservative councillors who purport to represent the interests of the voters in their Haverhill wards, was disappointingly lame.


One might have expected them to come up with half an argument at least. But to point for the umpteenth time to what they did five years ago in securing Cineworld and the eateries in Ehringshausen Way shows they are running out of ideas.


While that was a good move, it was an opportunist strike, completely at odds with the supposed future plans for the town centre and now, as a consequence, difficult to integrate with them, as anyone with any sense would have told them at the time, and as the then St Edmundsbury chief executive has since admitted.


But everyone here was hypnotised by the carrot of a cinema being dangled in front of them, while the Bury party were grabbing the chance to mitigate politically to some degree the massive cost of their Apex.


They then began inflating their ‘gifts’ to Haverhill by including Tesco, which they had done their best to hinder and delay for years, and the long-overdue refurb of the leisure centre. One or two other bits here and there which were happening anyway brought them to the lavish figure of £21million they had spent on Haverhill – curiously similar to what the Apex has finally cost.


The £21million was wheeled out at every opportunity like a crackly old gramophone record. Those of us who replied by saying it was a much-appreciated £21million, but it was no good to walk away and think the job was done.


I dread to think how much has been spent in Bury since then, and I struggle to come up with anything in Haverhill at all. The council’s area working party has all but ground to a halt for lack of anything in the pipeline to talk about.


The regeneration money earmarked for High Street has never been spent, because no one can decide what it aims to do, and may now have been lost back into the black hole of the borough’s tight coffers.


As for claiming credit for Haverhill Research Park, that’s just a sick joke when you remember how hard Carisbrooke had to fight to get it past the reluctant planners, and how the borough tried to get it struck out of the local plan altogether. Theirs was almost a deathbed conversion.


The gap between what Haverhill people want or need and what the borough council is proposing, if anything, has grown dramatically over the last few years, doubtless due to the fact that Labour took control of the town council.


It is in Conservative interests that as little as possible should be achieved while Labour appear to have any power in the town (in fact they have almost none, because the town council is, in terms of spending ability, a minnow).


All the last chunk of off-the-cuff borough investment came during the period when the town council was in Conservative hands, and rebuilding after the cataclysm of the HRA, so not in a position to show much of a profile.


If it was just money, it would be bad enough, but it’s worse than that. There is a future planning vacuum at St Edmundsbury as far as Haverhill is concerned, which was exposed by the Vision 2031 document.


There has been no sign of any political will to build on what was done five years ago. There is no sense of the borough driving anything forward here in the way it does in Bury, despite financial constraints which we all acknowledge. Haverhill is an adjunct which will have to be dealt with at some point but, please, not just now.


The shortfalls highlighted at the Vision 2031 public inquiry have been consigned to a town centre ‘masterplan’ to be drawn up some time in the future. We saw a town centre ‘masterplan’ in 2006, and of that nothing whatever has happened except what was already known at that time was going to happen anyway, so even when a new one finally appears we needn’t hold our breath on a timescale for any of it to be implemented. Traffic flow has to be sorted out first, for goodness sake, and that’s been dragging on for 50 years.


This saddens me so greatly because there was a time, not that long ago, when it did seem as if the leading councillors in Bury had taken some of Haverhill’s issues to heart and wanted to make real progress, and show they cared about the town.


But it wasn’t the first time we were taken in by politicians and it won’t be the last. And the saddest thing of all is that I am very much afraid that, when it comes to it, blame will not be apportioned in the right direction, and we shall go through the whole sorry saga again... and again... and again...

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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