Home Page Here's an anniversary we may not be quite so keen to celebrate 06/06/14

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Hart of the Matter

It’s a big year for anniversaries this year – World War One (100th), World War Two (75th), D-Day (70th today), Shakespeare (450th), Ghostbusters (30th), Haverhill Town Council (25th) – and last week Suffolk County Council celebrated its 40th.


That may seem a bit odd when you realise that Suffolk is a Saxon entity and that local councils were set up in 1888. But for more than 80 years there were two Suffolks, West and East. It was only with the Local Government Re-organisation of 1974 that they were combined into one.


This was the same Act of Parliament which set up St Edmundsbury Borough Council which is, consequently, also celebrating its 40th anniversary, although we have seen no signs of any such celebrations, even in Bury St Edmunds, let alone in Haverhill.


At one stroke in 1974 Haverhill’s district council centre was removed from Haverhill to Bury St Edmunds, and its county council centre from Bury St Edmunds to Ipswich.


This was just seven years after its railway line was finally closed down, and between them those initiatives set the town on the path to poverty, obscurity and isolation from which it has only fairly recently begun to emerge.


And this was done to a town which had grown exponentially from around 4,000 people to 15,000 during the previous 20 years, and was all set to grow to 30,000 by 1980 under a newly-commissioned masterplan from one of the most eminent architects and town planners in the country.


You might think this was one of those careless bits of legislation where lines were drawn on maps by bureaucrats without any thought for the consequences. But it wasn’t like that at all.


For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, the name Redcliffe-Maud is familiar although the context may now have become rather foggy, even if we studied the report which bears that name in Geography.


Lord Redcliffe-Maud chaired a Royal Commission to draw up a new plan for local government areas in England by the Labour Government in the 1960s. They came up with a plan to reduce the two-tier system of district and county councils to mostly one-tier, with two-tier only in big urban areas like London.


When you look at it now, as councils are paring down more and more, and joining up with each other as fast as they can go, it all seems eminently sensible. Not only that but the Redcliffe-Maud commission suggested one of the authorities would be Cambridgeshire And The Fens, including the areas around both Haverhill and Newmarket. Suffolk would lose those, but gain Colchester.


But when the Tories won the 1970 election, they chucked a lot of that out and went back mostly to the two-tier idea, with just some boundary changes, apart from the metropolitan areas where they reversed Redcliffe-Maud’s ideas and went for unitary authorities.


But the actual boundary changes which local government minister Peter Walker brought forward in a White Paper in 1971 still followed much of what Redcliffe-Maud suggested. Haverhill and Newmarket were to be included in Cambridgeshire.


This was the same year in which Sir Frederick Gibberd’s Masterplan for Haverhill was published.


When the Bill was introduced into Parliament in November 1971 there were many changes from the White Paper, but Haverhill and Newmarket were still in Cambridgeshire. It was only during the Bill’s passage through Parliament that they were taken out of Cambridgeshire and returned to Suffolk.


Newmarket Urban District Council protested strongly about this, but Haverhill Urban District Council did not. Believe it or not, this is so long ago that even I wasn’t working as a journalist here then, and I have often since asked why the UDC took this view.


It was never easy to get a direct answer, but I gather that they did consult what residents wanted and the general view was that Suffolk’s education system was better than Cambridgeshire’s village colleges, so people wanted their children’s schools to remain under Suffolk.


It was, nevertheless a curious decision, although judging from what happened in Newmarket it would not have made any difference if they had kicked up a fuss.


Of all the what-ifs in Haverhill’s long history, this must be the most frustratingly unfathomable. The way Cambridgeshire was divided up into districts under the new Act, the city continued to have its own council within those of the south and east of the county.


Neither South Cambridgeshire nor East Cambridgeshire had a major town within them. Newmarket didn’t do too badly because it was still the main town in the newly-created Forest Heath District Council.


But Haverhill became a subsidiary to Bury, while just about a mile away were the rural swathes of South Cambridgeshire in which the biggest settlements were only large villages like Sawston, and the district council offices were in the city itself and not even in their own district.


Old Haverhillians are still very proud of the Suffolk heritage, and would have doubtless been upset at having to relinquish that. But links with the neighbouring county have always been strong. Many Haverhill men who were killed or captured in the Far East during World War Two were serving in the Cambridgeshires.


There can be little doubt that Haverhill’s recent history would have been very different and a good deal more prosperous had the original Redcliffe-Maud boundary been adhered to. As it is the Cambridge spin-off has obviously reached, and benefited, the town, but later and more indirectly.


What is more, both St Edmundsbury and Suffolk have been, and still are, shamefully slow to accept the importance of Cambridge in this far-flung corner of their district or county.


Things would have been very different if that border had been shifted two or three miles. Perhaps that is why there are very few, if any, signs of Haverhill celebrating the 40th birthdays of its two overlords.

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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