Hart of the Matter
There must have been quite a few disappointed children around this week, as schools all over the country from Scotland to Cornwall were closed due to the weather conditions and yet the snow stubbornly refused to produce more than a sprinkling around here.
It has been unseasonably cold, it is true, so the snow sheet (it’s not thick enough to call it a blanket) has stayed with us, but conditions here are, all in all, as mild as anywhere in Britain.
There is a lot more snow in almost every direction, but this bit of mid-Anglia around Cambridge is scarcely inconvenienced at all – and this is so often the case.
It might be used as a selling point to encourage businesses to come to Haverhill, if it were not a bit of a hostage to fortune. In a period which has seen a remarkable amount of extreme weather batter various parts of the country, we have suffered hardly any disruption at all.
There may have been a couple of days over the past few winters when conditions have delayed commuters to or from Cambridge for an odd hour or two, but that is nothing in comparison to what others have suffered – ask those people who have to travel further afield.
We don’t get floods any more because we have no major rivers around here and the flood park protects the town itself. We had one windy day ten years ago when the roof of the new hotel blew off, but the fact that everyone remembers it shows how little has intervened since to take its place.
So companies could move here safe in the knowledge that they will not lose working days due to weather conditions, and that is an important consideration. It may not make up for having probably the worst public transport infrastructure in the country but, hey, it’s something.
In many other areas, as enthusiasts keep telling us, Haverhill offers a lot of attractions to companies looking to relocate. The town’s position in relation to crucial gateways and destinations like Stansted Airport, the east coast ports, London, Cambridge and the routes to the midlands and the north, is one.
The cheap and generally available housing is another, and, for certain types of business, there is an experienced and available workforce. Sometime next year, we are told, we will have superfast broadband, which will be another vital piece of the jigsaw. And land is cheap, too.
Then there is quality of life. We are surrounded by beautiful and easily accessible countryside, much of it regularly featured in magazines and calendars. We suffer very little traffic congestion. Local people may moan about the odd busy road or junction, but for anyone who is used to a big city, Haverhill’s roads must seem virtually deserted.
The town itself is full of green open spaces. I have been told it has one of the highest ratios of trees per head of population of anywhere in the country.
As far as facilities are concerned, there are plenty of pluses to go along with the minuses we are always hearing about. Theatre and cinema are available on your doorstep and there is an excellent and well-resourced leisure centre – and cheap and easy parking.
Then there is the community. One story I commonly hear from people who have recently moved here says it all. I heard it again the other week. “We made a shortlist of all the places we would consider moving to and then we went and had a look at each one, staying there for a few days, and Haverhill was by far the friendliest place we experienced.”
Haverhill has learned to be a very inclusive community. That has been possibly the biggest benefit given by the old overspill scheme. It is also a very resourceful community, due to being quite a long way from any other town and being ignored for years by its local government providers.
In many cases, if a certain activity was unavailable in the town, a group was started up to provide it in some form. Quite often it would end up by accessing the resources from somewhere to provide whatever facilities or equipment was required. It was, as I have said before, the ‘Big Society’ in action.
Like any town, Haverhill has its generation gap difficulties, with lots of young people and many of them claiming they have nothing much to do here in their leisure time. They do one of two things generally – travel out of town, or hang around places together, sometimes making a nuisance of themselves.
But most of it is petty, and Haverhill still has one of the lowest crime rates in a county which is just about the safest in England. And, we gather, education secretary Michael Gove is coming here specifically to visit two of the best performing schools around.
So, if you were looking to relocate, in which categories would Haverhill fall short – its ‘roadblocks’, in business jargon. Here is my summary.
Relocation Roadblocks: Restaurants (limited types); Retail (limited range); Railway (none); Reputation (poor image in surrounding area); Residences (lack of executive housing). Just a lot of Rs, really.