Home Page Easy ride for a bland report shows low aspirations 12/09/14

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

It may be that surveying the world from a series of Lake District summits, as I was doing last week, gives one rather too lofty a view of the world, but it seems to me the horizons of some of our representatives are very limited.


So often we hear comments which imply that the fact that Haverhill is not going rapidly downhill at present represents real success.


I don’t know how this impression has gained such ground in recent years. I generally blame St Edmundsbury Borough Council, but then the borough would echo Christine Keeler’s ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he’.


Thrust immediately back into debates on local issues, I found myself at another meeting of Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP) yesterday, where there was a depressing aura of déjà-vu filling the air.


HAWP was receiving the final report of the Kent Business School’s three-year project ‘Destination Haverhill’, four-and-a-half years on from its inception, a piece of work which has cost £40,000, half of which came from council tax payers’ money via the borough and county councils.


I wonder whether there would ever have been a final report at all if some members of HAWP, frustrated at the lack of business to discuss, had not put it on a list of issues they wanted aired. Perhaps that is why it was so late.


This was a particularly disappointing document in that I don’t really believe it represented the entirely frank and open views of those who carried out the work. Project leader Debbie Kemp attended some HAWP meetings in its early days and was beginning to touch on some very important issues with regard to Haverhill town centre.


The first time I heard it aired within a formal meeting that the high rents for town centre properties were a major issue was by her. It was also through her that we became aware of the intractability or elusiveness of the property landlords, and the consequent difficulties in improving the linkages to the car parks, or the appearance of empty stores.


These were clearly real roadblocks to progress, yet neither receives a mention in the final report. Another crucial issue is the old Co-op store in Jubilee Walk, which does get mentioned, but only peripherally.


The project began to evaporate into a sort of mentoring service for the few independent traders who engaged with it. The results of this are reported in a rosy glow at the end of the final document. Of the five, one has moved to Bury, one has closed down altogether (because of high rents – this is not mentioned) and the others continue more through their own hard work than anything else.


Only two were in the high street and one of those is the one which has gone to Bury in search of greater footfall.


The rest of the report could have been put together by schoolchildren in a couple of weeks, or (if I might be so bold as to make such a claim) predicted by me before the project began, which is disappointing because I believe it had the opportunity and the expertise to achieve a lot more.


The borough’s economic development officer was left with the unenviable job of trying to make something positive out of this, and no doubt the researchers will have been eager to help by pruning anything too derogatory, so we ended up with something so bland it is hard to see how it will help anyone in future, despite the claims made for it.


HAWP members were a bit lily-livered in their response. I’m guessing most of them must have thought it was a bit disappointing to say the least. Continually being told Haverhill is ahead of the national average with regard to empty shops doesn’t help, because (as even the report admits) it is the type of shops which is the problem.


The fact that most of Haverhill’s traders are surviving is a good thing, but only one side of the coin. The town centre is not just a place to do business, in which, we are led to believe, it is doing better than many, it is also a facility for local people, and in that regard it is doing worse than most.


Those councillors – and there are some – who think the current situation is, on the whole, not too bad, are out of touch. It is no surprise to find that they tend not to live in Haverhill.


The report needed to say something to the effect that very little has been achieved in Haverhill town centre in the last four-and-a-half years, and to suggest the reasons why that is the case, however unpalatable they may be to local politicians or council officers. I had hoped it would.


As it didn’t, HAWP members needed to have highlighted the issue. Focusing on the cost of the project (which seems high) is neither here nor there, because no one would complain if it had done a good job and engendered further effective debate and action.


This project was intended as a helping hand from Tesco to local businesses, putting them in touch with experts who had advised that retail giant. If the end result had been presented to Tesco management I doubt it would have had the easy ride it was given yesterday.


To cap it all, we heard later in the meeting how the current state of the old Co-op in Jubilee Walk is entirely the Co-op’s fault because they, as leaseholders, refuse to talk to the borough, which owns the building.


That seems a bizarre situation, against the Co-op’s interests who, we are told, are exemplary payers of their rent (why?). There must be more to that. Meanwhile we wait another year or more for the next masterplan for the town centre, before anything else can happen, if then. Six, maybe seven years with no change to speak of. But things, on the whole, are okay?

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.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer