Hart of the Matter
Anyone who has been down to Jubilee Walk and seen elderly people with shopping trolleys or mums with pushchairs struggling through or round the new Meccano assault course which council engineers have chosen to put in their way and call a bus station, might be wondering, like me, if this is the shape of things to come.
This is one of the first major engineering projects in Haverhill in which Suffolk County Council have been closely involved and it certainly does not impress, nor does it gain by comparison with the excellent work (so far) which is transforming Queen Street and the area in front of the new Tesco store.
I suppose Tesco have paid a lot towards all that, whereas the bus station is unsponsored, so therefore as cheap as could be managed, following in a long tradition of civic works in Haverhill.
However, it turns out I was wrong in my initial surmise that this was entirely the work of Suffolk County Council. It appears this is the original camel, having been designed by St Edmundsbury Council to a specification set by Suffolk County Council – ie the actual shelters themselves are a specified piece of kit, as used in other places such as Beccles. Perhaps people in that boating community are adept at squirming in and out of tight spaces.
When people compare the end product with what Bury St Edmunds has – completely provided by the borough council, and reportedly rather plush although I have not seen it myself – some familiar sounds of complaint begin to be heard.
I am not all that concerned with what this says about St Edmundsbury Council, whose days are numbered and whose efforts will soon have gone down into the dust as Haverhill Urban District Council’s before them, in the long march to bigger and bigger bureaucratic empires. You can see other parts of Haverhill where St Edmundsbury have done rather well.
No. I am most concerned with what it says about Suffolk County Council, with whom we will be dealing in the not-too-distant future. It will be Suffolk without Ipswich, of course, and supposedly based in Bury St Edmunds, but don’t let that fool you.
By way of experiment we should ask all Suffolk’s 75 councillors individually whether they have ever been to Haverhill, and then, when the new Suffolk County Council minus Ipswich is in place, we should do the same exercise, and I bet you won’t find a huge difference. In fact, I would hazard a guess, although I may be wrong, that an urban councillor from Ipswich is more likely to have been to Haverhill than a rural one from any part of East Suffolk.
If anything, we will be further from the seat of power than before. Haverhill UDC bit the dust in 1974 and it was 20 years before we managed to get the Bury-centred replacement to turn its gaze on its second-largest centre of population. In recent years it has begun to make a difference in the town, but now we face the same challenge all over again.
At the moment, a brand new fire station is being built on the outskirts of Ipswich. Other stations are being ‘refurbished’. Haverhill is one of them. The opportunity to move this fire station to a more sensible place, away from complex traffic congestion, and open up a very important part of what is rapidly becoming the centre of Haverhill, has been ignored. Too costly, no doubt.
By contrast I’ll make another little wager - that it won’t be many years before Suffolk Police Authority realise the police station would be more sensibly located elsewhere and the site redeveloped for shops. Perhaps before then we could relocate the aerial, which is now a signal blot on the skyline from the attractive new viewpoint outside Tesco.
There was a Town Centre Master Plan concocted by St Edmundsbury a few years ago, thanks to yet another of the endless series of consultations inflicted on Haverhill. We’ve got Tesco (we knew that was coming anyway) and the leisure centre area has been revamped. Apart from that the plan has largely been trampled over.
Cineworld appeared out of the blue and demanded a particular site, which blew a great hole in everything. Instead of the new bus station envisaged in the Master Plan, we got a pathetic re-vamp on the same site. Much of that Plan is now, I imagine, as defunct as those who created it will soon be. More lost opportunities.
Oh, and if you think local government re-organisation has some benefits because at least it saves money, don’t be deluded. Local government jobs are like the matter of the universe – none can be lost, it is merely transformed into a different form of matter, only in this case, without the concomitant release of energy, one suspects.