Home Page High Street conundrum results from years of compromise 10/09/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

If you were trying to drag something out as long as possible you couldn’t make a much better job of it than Suffolk County Council have done with Haverhill High Street’s traffic regulations.


I used to think St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s record on the subject was pretty feeble when they were in charge of highway engineering works in Haverhill.


But since the county council took over things have moved up to another level altogether.


To avoid repeating myself, I won’t list everything that has happened since the 1960s when the idea of town centre pedestrianisation was first mooted.


Suffice it to say that an idea which was neatly encapsulated in Sir Frederick Gibberd’s master plan of 1970 has been systematically ignored, then part-implemented, compromised, hacked about, ignored again and finally turned into a saga which could outrun Coronation Street.


The latest exciting cliffhanger of an episode had featured the plan to close off High Street above Quakers Lane, and let traffic which needed to use the other part of the street exit via that narrow passage.


It seemed pretty desperate. I went and looked at the width of Quakers lane and tried to imagine the traffic that currently uses High Street diverting up that way. It wasn’t easy.


But these engineer chappies, they must know their stuff, I thought, or they wouldn’t suggest it. So we had months of consultation on the idea, arguments with the opponents, particularly the blue badge holders, and it dragged on interminably without any sign of progress.


Then we gathered there might have to be a public inquiry to resolve the objections. At a meeting in June we were told the public inquiry looked as if it would be delayed.


But at least there had been some progress. We’d been through the first phase of consultation and the public inquiry, if we have to have it, was at least vaguely being pencilled in.


But now the county council have produced another bombshell. Detailed investigation has shown the Quakers Lane exit is no longer ‘acceptable’, for a variety of engineering reasons.


Wouldn’t you think they might have found that out before we went through all this – in fact, before they put it forward with such conviction well over a year ago? I mean, it looked unlikely enough to me, and I know nothing about engineering.


Didn’t somebody think: "Hang on a minute, this is a tight call. Let’s look at it in detail before we start spending resources on the civic and legal processes.”? But no. One hates to be cynical (doesn’t one just), but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that someone at county hall was required to produce a quick suggestion, and was pretty sure they wouldn’t be around when it had to be worked through.

Of course, this has indeed happened. There has been a big restructuring in the county council’s highways department. In fact, one of the former borough engineers now seems to have responsibility for Haverhill. At least, he was present to field questions at a public meeting in Haverhill last week.


During that meeting he put his finger on one of the main problems about managing traffic in Haverhill, the lack of an obvious north-south through route.


But, as was pointed out to him during the meeting, this has always been the case. It was the case in 1970, and the solution Sir Fred came up with was an inner ring road which supplied rear access to all the town centre businesses and an urban through route as well.


Some of it was achieved, but other interests got in the way of completing it. The biggest failing was shying away from the southern rear service road, which would have run through from the town hall car park to Crowland Road, via the back of Gurteens factory site.


Some properties would have been lost, but think how much better the town would be now, and how much time, effort and resource would have been saved.


Instead, that land has been grabbed by the borough council for car parks, and we still have the Mill Road and Crowland Road bottlenecks because the carriageways are too narrow unless you knock down some houses.


The land where houses were demolished beside the upper part of Mill Road is still there to widen it. The land behind the Bull has preserved the gap through which the road would have gone. But, for lack of real determination to achieve the best for the town, the rest has been left alone – the bottom of Mill Road and the bottom of Crowland Road, perhaps 20 properties.


Now we lurch from one half-baked and ill-considered idea to the next, and the latest one is no exception. Without solving the through traffic problem it is hard to see how it can work, attractive though it may seem at first sight to just close off the whole High Street.


Twenty properties – it’s about the same as was suggested in the first Tesco scheme. That would probably have produced a better result as well. I know that, if it was my house, I wouldn’t like it.  But think of the benefits for everyone else!

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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