Home Page Hart of the Matter 02/10/09

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Hart of the Matter

I can’t quite recall who it was – some long-forgotten minor British prime minister, I think – who came up with the phrase about feeling the ‘hand of history’ on his shoulder. You may think it’s a typically shallow metaphor, but, for once, this week, the image could ring true for all of us with regard to Haverhill.

Next Wednesday at 5pm the portcullis comes down on comments and objections to the core strategy of St Edmundsbury Council’s Local Development Framework (LDF), allocating what will be built where in the borough for the next 20-odd years.

Before you yawn and glaze over, consider this. After that moment, you can have no complaints if you suddenly find a new estate going up next to you, or a gigantic warehouse being built across the view at the end of your garden.

All these big things have to conform to a policy laid down in advance – usually years in advance – by local planners. Planners live in a different world from the rest of us. Whereas we wonder how we can budget to replace our car next year, or whether we will have a job next week, their eyes are on the most distant of horizons – currently, what things  will be like in 2031.

Like me, you may look at that and think: “Well, if I’m not pushing up the daisies by then I’ll probably be being spoonfed in a wheelchair, so who cares?” Or you may think: “Good heavens (or similar expletive), I hope I’m not still in Haverhill by then!”

However, almost every bad decision you can think of which has led to some failure of infrastructure or planning and held Haverhill back has, at some stage, passed a point where the right pressure exerted at the right place, could have changed it.

The prime one is, of course, the failure in the early 1960s of enough people to engage in protest over the axing of Haverhill’s railway line. There was a protest, of course, but nowhere near big enough. Too many people decided it was a waste of time or a foregone conclusion – which, of course, these things are unless enough people get behind them.

You may point to the protests over Stansted Airport expansion. It may seem pointless, because the Government or BAA - or someone just denominated ‘they’-  have already decided. That is true. But if the whole of East Anglia revolted, you can bet your life a new solution for London’s airports would miraculously be found somewhere else.

The fact is the majority of people in the region probably support airport expansion anyway because it will help their businesses or be more convenient for them. Changing any long-term bureaucratic plan is an almost impossible job once it has been graven in stone, or on sheaves of paper that almost weigh as much. The time to change it is before it gets to that stage.

The LDF core strategy, far from being a dusty and obscure piece of bureaucracy, is the embryo from which life in and around Haverhill 20 years from now will spring.

This plan for 2,500 new homes on the north side of the town will one day translate into another vast area of concrete, bricks and mortar, and, eventually, the 5,000-6,000 people who will live in them – an increase in the size of the town of 25 per cent.

In general, that level of increase ought to be a good thing, because Haverhill has for a long time been stuck in between two stools – not small enough to be cosy and picturesque, but not big enough to attract all the services people want. The big question is whether the expansion is in the right place – whether it makes the town lop-sided, whether it will encroach on Kedington, Little Wratting or Withersfield, whether it will destroy attractive countryside, and so on.

For anyone who lives near these sites, or any other sites suggested in the document or in the consultations engendered by it, there is the more immediate question of how it will affect their lives, their children, the value of their properties, etc.

Many of Haverhill’s difficulties have been caused by the apathy of its residents during previous crucial moments of planning. By saying that I don’t defend or justify planners or councillors from the past who made horrendously bad decisions. They were supposed to represent residents’ best interests and, in many cases, signally failed to do so.

In a way, one can sympathise with the residents themselves, who probably knew little of what was going on, nothing about how to access more information and, if they had done, would not have been able to understand the jargon in which it was couched.

But there is no excuse now, with the Internet at our fingertips and the efforts of councillors and officers to explain the issues in the simplest terms they can. So have your say before the deadline on Wednesday.

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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