Home Page HAWP again runs out of minor issues to debate 17/01/14

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Hart of the Matter

It is one of the more curious things about local government that it can combine the most pedantic of regulation with the ability to ride roughshod over normal procedure, depending on the political will there exists for either course of action.


You don’t have to look any further than the recent ding-dong over that little Norfolk Broad which someone brought back to life at their own expense, only to be told it was all illegal because he hadn’t sought planning permission.


You wonder if officers who threaten action over this sort of thing (thankfully the Broads Authority have now backed off) have had a common sense amputation at an early age.


So what are we to make of the current situation with Haverhill Area Working Party? Recently there was this mullarkey over the Article 4 Directions which govern changes to residential buildings in conservation areas.


There was a move to axe them which came to HAWP and was thrown out, so now a new compromise has been put together, brought to HAWP again, and has now gone out to public consultation (again), before probably coming back to HAWP again for ratification and sending on to St Edmundsbury’s cabinet.


The amount of officer time and paperwork involved is significant, but how crucial is the issue in reality? Okay, it is important in its own way, particularly to those affected. But the process is byzantine and long-winded, for the sake of doing everything by the exact regulations.


Now, compare this with the draft Vision 2031 planning document process. Following public consultation, the planners drew up the draft document, placed it before HAWP, who spent 20 minutes on it and approved it.


Since then there has been a lot of fuss about what is not in it and should be, and Haverhill Town Council, rather belatedly, put forward a whole series of concerns and objections. At one of St Edmundsbury’s other committees they were told this was too late and would just have to be part of the coming public inquiry on the document.


However, we now hear there has been a meeting between town council representatives and the planners, at which it has been agreed that these concerns will be addressed in the document in some way after all.


Next week, HAWP had a meeting scheduled at which one might think these extremely crucial developments would feature high on the agenda. Instead, the meeting has been postponed due to lack of business.


Such a postponement occurred last year as well, despite the fact that the regularity of HAWP’s meetings had already been reduced due to lack of business.


As HAWP is supposedly St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s main forum for discussion of Haverhill issues, and as the Vision 2031 document is supposed to guide all future development of the town for the next 20 years, it seems extraordinary that, at this vital stage, there should be no business to discuss.


One reading of the situation might be that HAWP has now been circumvented to such a degree that it has become totally pointless and there is little value in it ever meeting again. But that would be to ignore the bureaucracy involved.


Local government is constitutionally incapable of dealing with matters at very short notice. Things that move quickly have almost always happened before anyone gets the chance to talk about them or make a public decision.


So if, two weeks before a meeting, something significant develops, it is too late to place it on that meeting’s agenda, in the normal course of events, and will have to wait till the next quarter, or even six months. And then people wonder why councils take so long to make decisions.


Political will is the other fly in the ointment. When the draft Vision 2031 document came out it was in the council’s interest to get it through as quickly as possible. This is because it is, primarily, intended to prevent St Edmundsbury’s heritage being invaded by lots of new housing.


Where such documents might be thought of as a chance to initiate new ideas and aspirations, St Edmundsbury immediately saw it as a defensive weapon. It needed to be got in place quickly before those evil developers were given carte blanche by the Government.


Unfortunately for them, dissatisfaction began to bubble up. Instead of being able to present a united front at the inevitable public inquiry, it began to look as if the community might be divided.


Then an inspector was appointed who has already thrown one plan back to a local authority demanding it include provision for thousands more new homes.


Now the planners desperately need their draft document to show that everyone is on side, or else it will give the inspector another opportunity to further the Government’s demand for new homes.


What is more, the latest financial boost for Cambridgeshire’s infrastructure means that even St Edmundsbury can no longer ignore the effect it may have in Haverhill.


So now it is in St Edmundsbury’s interest to get all this sorted quickly and quietly so, miraculously, HAWP will not be required to come to a view about any compromises yet.


The result is that if you go to a lowly town council meeting, you will probably hear about significant issues such as infrastructure, housing, employment and health provision, while if you go to HAWP, the borough council’s main Haverhill committee, you will hear about public art and whether or not people can have double-glazing – that’s if they are meeting at all.

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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