Home Page Cheap bodged solution the likely high street outcome 09/09/13

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

There are going to be some interesting moments during this week in Haverhill, so I’m glad to have got back off my hols in time to see what transpires.


I am guessing the high street will once again take centre stage, with a Safer Neighbourhood Team public forum tonight (Monday) – that was where all the latest argy-bargy about parking kicked off last year – followed by the ‘stakeholder’ meeting on the way forward on Wednesday (9/11, oo-er!), and then a public exhibition about it on Saturday.


As it happens, my hols gave me another angle on the whole thing. Regular readers of this column and its predecessor may remember how I have sometimes extolled the virtues of what many may think an unlikely town, Macclesfield.


Whenever I spend time in the Peak District I always make an effort to visit the home of silk manufacture, because it seems well planned, easy to use and has some nice food shops, and shows what can be done with a town which has little memorable heritage beyond its industrial past.


It is, of course, twice the size of Haverhill and lies in what is now an affluent commuter belt of Manchester, inhabited in recent years by ridiculously highly-paid footballers, among others.


Nevertheless, we are told the economic crunch has hit harder in the Midlands and North than here in the East and South, and this time I saw quite a few empty shops – more prevalent than here, by a long way.


But there are still lessons one can take away. I like their car parking charges. If you are going to have car parking charges at all, then this strikes me as the sort to have – 60p for up to two hours and then incremental increases up to around £3.50 all day, as far as I remember.


I have never been able to see the point of the half-hour ‘pop-in’ charge we have in Haverhill. It just encourages people to use the town as a ‘pop-in’ shopping centre, the very thing we are trying to get away from.


If you want to stay up to two hours, which, I would suggest, is a reasonable length of time for a shopping trip to a town of limited retail offer, you have to pay a lot more, which is a disincentive to exactly the sort of shoppers we want to attract.


Moving on to pedestrianisation, Macclesfield has it in place in much the same way as Haverhill, with a change from tarmac to reddish paving. There are double yellow lines on the tarmac but not on the paving, so it looks quite neat.


There are no barriers and no gates, and deliveries to shops are allowed. These were the only vehicles I saw in the pedestrian area – and I only saw two of them – during the hour or two I was there on Friday mid-morning.


There was no disabled parking, and no illegal parking to be seen anywhere. Everyone used the car parks, which are no closer to the shopping centre than Haverhill’s.


It was rather unkindly suggested to me that in these hilly towns people become a lot fitter and so are able to walk. It is true I never saw one electric wheelchair in the whole town of over 50,000 people.


Alternatively, the town has a few hills in it, so may not be either suitable or attractive for those with mobility problems. But they are not hugely steep hills, and Haverhill is built on the slopes of a valley, so I don’t really buy that.


Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of how Macclesfield came to be pedestrianised, how its traffic flows, and how its political decisions are made. Maybe a closer knowledge of all these things would show that there are no parallels to be drawn.


But I just looked up and down a street which was as busy and bustling as any trader could wish, despite having some prime empty shops, and which provided a very pleasant environment for the shopper, unconcerned by any cars whizzing past or blocking pavements.


I suppose one really pertinent factor is that the pedestrianised streets are arranged so that they don’t actually lead anywhere very useful. If you need to travel from one side of the town to the other there are some sizeable arterial roads around the outer edge of the town centre, at the rear of the shops, a bit like Ehringshausen Way.


But rather than having just the one, and then having a leisure centre, supermarket and cinemas and restaurants on it to clutter it up, there is a complete circuit.


I don’t suppose that during Wednesday’s debate anyone will put forward the gold-plated solution to Haverhill’s high street traffic issues, which is a proper southern service road as was envisaged in the Gibberd Plan of 1970.


The cost would be great, I have no doubt, but if you added up the cost to the town and to the local authorities responsible for it over the past 40 years of the ongoing pedestrianisation saga, I reckon it would have been cheaper to have done that in the first place.


And that makes me think that, with the continuing increase in traffic and the threat to town centres from the Internet, it might still be cheaper to grasp the nettle now than to go on like this for another 40 years, which, I am sorry to say, appears to be the likely outcome of whatever solution is chosen out of Wednesday’s and Saturday’s discussions.


As it stands, whatever is chosen will upset and annoy somebody to such a degree that it will have to go to a public inquiry, unless we go for the status quo, which nobody wants but which might end up as the compromise (cheap) solution – the worst of all worlds.


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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