Home Page Changing views of public sector have come very late in the day 15/04/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

If you want to get a better insight into the changing world of employment and how different life is going to be for public sector workers forced into the private sector, you could not do better than listen to current planning debates in Haverhill.


Planning decision making is one of those areas where the public and private sector come into direct contact, sometimes direct conflict.


The private sector wants to develop sites and make money out of them; the public sector wants to make sure this benefits the community and does not reduce people’s quality of life nearby.


One is concerned with money, the other with people. Of course, there is blurring. New developments often bring new jobs, which improve the quality of life of people – perhaps, but not always, local people.


It’s a complex trade-off, and the ill-informed often see both sides as compromising, even selling out. Councillors have given in to developers and taken bribes, whether corporate or personal, people imagine. Or councillors have proved inflexible and frightened off economic revival.


Then there is the other form of contact – public sector trying to attract the private sector to develop a site or a facility in the first place.


If they succeed, councillors are often accused of just making money for their council. If they fail they have not done enough to move the town forward.


In a few weeks there will be elections at which these different perspectives could be very important. We have seen in recent weeks a considerable shift in attitude from councillors to some major development proposals in Haverhill.


Having objected to, and refused, the first scheme for the old Project site, or Hamlet Green as it is now called, town councillors, at least, have revised their view and supported a second scheme which is not very different.


St Edmundsbury borough councillors have not yet considered the new scheme, but they have supported a mix of uses to bring forward Haverhill Research Park at Hanchet End, which they had initially opposed.


All such things come about through negotiations, but these were, on this occasion, more adversarial than, say, the Tesco development, or the Cineworld one, which took place on council-owned land.


Quite how far the council originally believed in Tesco as A Good Thing, rather than a lucrative prospect, is hard to say. It seems Tesco’s efforts to come to Haverhill on other sites during the previous decade or more had come to nothing.


One might deduce from that that the council did not, from the beginning, necessarily see Tesco as the ‘catalyst’ for other developments, in the way they marketed it to us at the time of the final decision.


Either that, or they simply didn’t care whether Haverhill moved forward or not.


William Jewson of HPG, who want to develop Hamlet Green, said something quite interesting when he was answering town councillors’ questions on Tuesday.


He described Tesco as ‘the pioneers’. Because Tesco has looked at Haverhill and decided to come here, others such as Wickes, are following suit. I have heard a similar claim made for the arrival in town of Iceland, WH Smith and Costa Coffee.


But Wickes initially had the little franchise within Focus. In fact, their sign used to be the top of the pillar of panels outside Focus. McDonalds, I believe, had at one stage pretty much agreed with the council over taking part of the Jubilee Walk car park for a drive-thru.


Iceland took advantage of the Woolworths demise in many towns, not just Haverhill. Yet Iceland had been very close to taking over the old Co-op – now Peacocks and Argos, for those who don’t remember it – back in the 1990s.


So we are left wondering why all this has taken so long. Why did Tesco not arrive earlier? It is pretty much public knowledge that they had been trying for a long time.


It’s not as if these retailers have not been sniffing around Haverhill for some years.


Then there is another mystery around the concept of comparison shopping. This is the theory that people like to have more than one retailer of a particular kind to visit when they go shopping, so they can compare goods and prices.


It was a strong argument put forward in favour of the ‘bulky goods’ stores planned as part of Hamlet Green in the first scheme. Under the new scheme these stores will have to be occupied by retailers who do not compete directly with the high street.


Some years ago we had comparison shopping in Haverhill in some areas. We had Currys, we had Dixons, we had several other major players, all of whom competed with high street independents. But they all gave up and left the town, presumably because residents didn’t support them.


And then there was the grand scheme to develop the whole area on the south side of High Street between the new Ladbrokes and Provincial House, creating a shopping arcade stretching as far as the back gardens of Helions Park Avenue.


That fell down because plans to move the Ex-Servicemen’s Club down to the area where the cinema is now were foiled by the apparent need to retain a javelin-throwing area.

Maybe private sector retailers are more prepared to consider Haverhill now because public sector planners and councillors are more prepared to consider them.

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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