Home Page If car parks are to be built on, we may have to wait for another stage in the planning 12/06/15

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

After last week’s exciting first instalment in the new series of Master Plan: The Continuing Saga, you may remember how the astonishing revelation that we could get a new town square down Jubilee Walk was probably the biggest new theme to emerge.

Nevertheless, there were others which, after a week or two to mull over their significance, are beginning to look as though they may lead to some quite dramatic plot developments later in the piece.

For instance, there was the idea for redevelopment of the Wisdom site, coupled with some new building on the Town Hall Arts Centre Car Park, aimed at providing a ‘corner’ – an architectural feature within town planning which is referred to again and again in the draft document.

Then there was the return of two-way traffic in Swan Lane, and the possibility of linking through from Lower Downs Slade to join with it – or more accurately, one supposes, with Camps Road.

Then there was the development at the rear of Argos and Peacocks, and including the land behind the former Bell pub, which is all part of creating a better setting for the Stour Brook, so that it can become the asset to the town which it ought to be.

Each of these ideas has a little caveat at the end of it, which turns into a mantra if you have been reading the document long enough. It is to the effect that each idea would have to be developed in conjunction with St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s proposed review of car parking in the borough.

The reason is obvious. Each of these ideas would result in a loss of car parking spaces - in the case of the new town square quite a lot of car parking spaces, and a fair few from the arts centre car park.

The document makes no suggestions as to where the new parking spaces to replace these would be located. That, presumably, is the borough’s problem.

I suppose an outsider taking a quick overview of the town might take note of the fact that the cinema car park and the former Cleales site car park are rarely fully-used. I say rarely to hedge my bets a bit. I have never seen either of them anywhere near full.

But I thought the whole point of the new town centre masterplan was to create a more viable town centre offer which would attract a lot more people to Haverhill. That’s not going to work if they can’t park anywhere.

Car parking has always been a curious issue in Haverhill. New car parks have been provided in the most unlikely and completely useless places, or in places without any thought of how they can be effectively linked to where people might want to go.

The cinema car park is a prime example. It costs to park there and it is further away from the cinema than the end of the Tesco car park by Reeds Lane, where it is free for three hours. So, unless you are planning to see a film directed by Peter Jackson or Martin Scorsese, you can comfortably park there for nothing. The same applies if you are eating at Prezzo or Frankie and Benny’s.

Then there is the Cleales car park which could, and should, have been the most popular place to park in Haverhill. The car park was always created with the eventual aim of St Edmundsbury Borough Council being able to build on the arts centre car park and realise a load of cash.

But it could only be of any use if there as a walkway through to the high street from there. As it stands you either have to traipse down through Quakers Lane and then back up the street, or else walk back to the arts centre car park, in which case it’s a lot simpler to just park there in the first place.

It appears no effort was made by the council to make deal with the landlord for Woolworth’s (as it was then) to have a back entrance of the kind one sees in so many towns, and which benefits everyone as shoppers walk through to the main street.

Then, when Woolworth’s packed up and Iceland came along, the borough seem to have made no effort to broach the idea again when it came to planning applications.

No doubt they will wave around vaguely the claims that the land ownership in that area is impossibly complex. That just shows a lack of real intent to get something done. I cannot believe it was beyond the wit and resources of the council to achieve it.

In fact, I can’t see the point of the council’s role in any of this masterplan process if it can’t achieve these sorts of enabling projects.

The success of this masterplan, when it is finalised, is going to depend on exactly this sort of issue being dealt with – for instance all the little alleyways from the Jubilee Walk car park to the high street.

The draft document is strong on getting these improved to make the approach to the town centre more attractive to visitors – although, if most of that car park is going to be given over to a town square, that issue might not be as important as it currently appears, even though the bus station will still be there.

That is just the sort of unjoined-up stuff that you can still find in the document, for all that in other areas it joins up ideas quite well.

So perhaps the full scope of the masterplan will not even be apparent when it is finalised, but will need to wait for the borough’s review of car parking.

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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