Home Page How far will the last-minute promises stave off independence? 19/09/14

Haverhill Poll
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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

So when the dust had settled and they had counted all the votes, both postal and personal, it was clear that the people had spoken and that those who had espoused independence would have to knuckle down under it – at least for a while.


No one can say how far the fear factor was decisive – whether people just did not believe that their community was strong enough to go it alone, particularly after all the threats which were levelled at it from above.


When you have been part of a subsidiary community for so long it is difficult to engender the confidence that is needed to make the break, and to see the resources you have, and the potential all around you, for what they really are.


Meanwhile, of course, in the seat of power there was general rejoicing that the union had been maintained, even if it was at the cost of some last-minute promises that were going to be difficult to deliver on.


The eleventh hour arrival of the leaders of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath District Councils and of Suffolk County Council in Haverhill just a week before the poll, promising a massive increase in devolution of power and tax-raising capability to Haverhill Town Council may have swayed some undecided voters.


But in the end it was probably Haverhill area residents themselves who feared that their rubbish would not be collected, that their roads would not be maintained and that their street lighting systems would be cut off which led to them voting to remain part of St Edmundsbury and of Suffolk.


The prospect of turning the Haverhill area into a new independent district council within the ambit of Cambridgeshire rather than Suffolk proved in the end to be too much of a gamble.


The vote in the town itself was, of course, marginally in favour of going for independence, but the villages produced a strong majority for the ‘No’ campaigners, which resulted in the 55 per cent to 45 per cent victory for the status quo.


Nevertheless, the leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council has this morning pledged that they will keep their promise to devolve major decision-making powers to the town council now.


There will be no more suggestions that Haverhill Area Working Party should be reduced to a gentle talking shop. Instead, he promised to follow the timetable for change put forward by a former council leader in the run-up to the vote, including the establishment of Haverhill Town Council as the leading authority within the ONE Haverhill project, which would become open to full public attendance.


However, although the vote has answered one question – about the future government of Haverhill, at least in the short term – the promises made have just opened an avalanche of other questions, which will all have to be answered before next May’s election to meet this challenging timetable.


For instance, if Haverhill is now to have independent control of its services, its facilities its traffic orders and its council tax raising, a solution will have to be found to the Great Wratting Question first posed within a year of local government re-organisation in 1974, as to whether Haverhill councillors should be able to vote on Bury St Edmunds area issues. Many of the Tory councillors in Bury are beginning to demand that there should be separate council meetings for specifically Bury St Edmunds matters.


There is also the question of the Cineworld Formula, whereby more money and resources are thought by Bury people to have been devoted per head to Haverhill than they find acceptable. This has already been retracted to some degree by the cutting of money which went to fund Haverhill Arts Centre, but Bury councillors are demanding a review of the entire funding issue before they will agree to vote for the Haverhill area devolution which has been promised.


And then there is the problem of those who feel they were never consulted and so are not bound by any promises, such as all the members of ONE Haverhill board who want to retain anonymity, and are unlikely to be persuaded to give it up.


Many of these matters have proved unresolvable over the last 40 years and to think that a neat answer can be dreamt up within the next eight months seems to many to be cloud-cuckooland.


So it seems likely that we can expect a lot of smoke and mirrors, come election time, to try to persuade voters that these promises have been kept when, in fact, almost nothing has changed.


Many in Haverhill may have woken up with a dreadful sense of disappointment this morning, but it is not impossible that the vote has given them the best of all worlds. Because it was close the political elite feel they have to at least appear to sit up and take notice.


But because the issues that the ‘No’ vote raises are, to all intents and purposes, impossible to resolve, they are likely to tear apart the political elite, not only in Bury St Edmunds but in Ipswich as well.


Therefore the promises will not be honoured and within a few years Haverhill will be back again for another vote on its future, and this time no promise of any kind will be any use, because nobody will believe any of them.


Then, almost certainly, the community will at last have the courage of its own convictions and vote for its freedom.

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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