Home Page Here we go again - building without infrastructure 10/02/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Imagine, if you will, driving out of Haverhill towards Bury St Edmunds and, instead of reaching the countryside as you pass the end of Ann Suckling Road, entering a new community stretching out on both sides of the A143.


As you arrive at the Fox (Rising Sun to us oldies) you encounter a large roundabout (eventually, no doubt, crowned with a sculpture of some kind) serving the Cambridge road coming in from the left, the north-west bypass.


Past that you have the scatter of houses in Little Wratting on the left, while on the right the valley is filled with swathes of new homes, accessed via a tree-lined avenue, the junction of which (probably another roundabout) you are now approaching.


If itís the right time of day, the traffic from 2,500 homes (thatís over 5,000 people) will be going in the opposite direction, having exited the tree-lined avenue heading for the roundabout and the north-west bypass towards Cambridge.


This is the sort of Utopian picture which thrilled post-war Britain, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. You can see brochures and prospectuses filled with artistsí impressions of such a scenario in Haverhill dating from those innocent years.


Sadly, we now know that the reality rarely lives up to the dream in such large flights of plannersí fancy, and we only have to look at parts of Haverhill as they were in the 1980s to remember how far it can fall short.


It has taken years Ė even decades Ė to overcome, to a large degree, the issues which this expansion created among us. Next month, if you trot along to any of the displays and public consultation exercises which the planners are organising, you can see the beginnings of this next phase on paper, for the first time.


Now Iím not against development and expansion of Haverhill. In fact, Iím very much in favour of it because it is the only way the facilities, particularly shopping, will be improved.


Ignorant people can bang on all they like about how the council should be doing something to get better shops in the town centre, but the truth is that this is all in the hands of the national shopping chains and at the moment, Haverhill is just not big enough.


And before you point to other smaller towns with better shops, by big enough I mean the available market is not big enough Ė and that includes the pulling power of the town in attracting shoppers from outside, the purchasing power of the current residents, and the tastes and shopping behaviour of those residents.


So expansion is very much the way forward Ė and as soon as possible. A lot of work has been done on analysing the best place for such expansion, and north-east Haverhill has been fixed on.


The old masterplan of 1970 will finally be completed when north-west Haverhill is finished, so further expansion will have to spill over the horizon in one direction or another.


It may seem perverse to choose a direction almost diametrically opposite to the main artery into and out of the town, but I donít know enough about the alternatives to make that judgement. One just hopes the planners do, and have got it right.


But one thing I do know is that if the planners think that by 2031 almost everyone will be working in and around Haverhill, so that out-commuting is a thing of the past, then they are living in cloud-cuckooland. You canít change behaviour overnight and 20 years, in planning terms, is overnight.


It infuriates me that they have completely ignored the most fundamental infrastructure requirement, and the third highest priority in the feedback from last yearís public consultation Ė the transport link to the outside world.


After nearly 60 years of building without the right infrastructure in place, and suffering as a result, we appear to have learned nothing at all. Like English batsmen playing spin we march out again and again confident that we still know best despite decades of clattering wickets.


St Edmundsbury Borough Council just does not seem to be able to accept that the dog-lead between Bury and Haverhill was ridiculously thin from the beginning and the Alsatian has long ago bitten through and is charging off in the direction of Cambridge and smashing down everything in its way.


It seems to me self-evident that any plan for development in the next 20 years in Haverhill has to have the transport link to Cambridge, and thence to London, at the top of the list. There are going to be nearly 20,000 people working at Addenbrookeís Hospital alone by then, for goodness sake, and most of them will be living in Haverhill, let alone the research parks in between, which, we are told, is the way forward for employment in the town.


I donít know how much investment this Great Wilsey Park will represent, but if itís only £100,000 a house that is a quarter of a billion. Surely, a railway, or a tramway or a much more efficient version of the guided bus system has to be worth putting in place first.


Talking to Cambridgeshire is all very well, but the A1307 is just one more among scores of busy roads to them. Itís life or death to us Ė economic and physical Ė but until I see that urgency categorically stated in black and white in a planning document, I despair.

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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