Hart of the Matter
For all that they are supposed to be surrealistic nonsense, Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking-Glass have an uncanny habit of proving a lot closer to the truth in our upside-down world.
And I don’t mean Tim Burton’s enjoyable film flight of the imagination, but the real stories as written by Lewis Carroll. Often the Looking-Glass World he portrays is the only image you can compare with some particularly daft piece of health and safety bureaucracy.
The saga of Haverhill’s High Street pedestrianisation is quite as bizarre as anything in either story – in fact it has many parallels. Remember the Lobster Quadrille and ‘Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?’
The fact that everybody you speak to thinks it should be fully pedestrianised and yet for some strange reason it still doesn’t happen has much of the flavour of Humpty Dumpty’s unbirthday present.
Councillors seem to be in the frame of mind of the King of Hearts – ‘Important, unimportant, important, unimportant...’
My father often quoted the little rhyme Alice repeats to the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle:
When the sands are all dry, he’s as gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
It is, of course, typical of many people one meets who are, in another very descriptive vernacular phrase, ‘all mouth and trousers’.
Sadly there is a feeling of this in the air about High Street now. People who not long ago were all in favour of shutting the traffic out completely during the day, having physical barriers like the impressive lime leaves in Queen Street, and telling blue badge holders they would have to use the Shopmobility scheme, are now breathing the dreaded words ‘public inquiry’ in hushed and timorous voices.
In fact, the idea of shutting the street all the week seems to be almost dead and the arguments are about whether we dare try to shut it on a Friday to accommodate moving the market.
The evidence seems quite clear that if the Friday market is not moved it will slowly tail off and die. It is already below the ‘critical mass’ for a viable market and the trend in recent months has been downward.
It does not surprise me that the independent report produced last week about the markets in St Edmundsbury shows they are mostly used by older people. As far as I can make out many young people are quite happy to be in thrall to the supermarkets.
They seem content, for the sake of ease, to pay more to purchase ordinary, native fruit and veg flown in from far-flung places, grown to exact specification and waxed to within an inch of its life, without the least reference to what it tastes like or the environmental cost of its production.
I suppose it goes along with all this ridiculous rubbish about throwing stuff away once it is past its sell-by date.
But the market should also be a vibrant social centrepiece to the town on both days. On Saturdays it still is, but on Fridays much less so. I agree that it could be set up in a more attractive manner on both days, but the crucial issue is location.
Faced with the evidence I have seen so far, if any planning inspector is prepared to rule, against the clear majority, to preserve the high street as a car park and doom the local market, then he/she should never be in the job in the first place.
Clearly, the councils involved have to stand up to the vocal minority, not just of blue badge holders but of some businesses as well, and do the right thing for the less vocal town as a whole.
Of course objectors have a right to be heard and to make their case, and the businesses in particular have a right to fight for what is best for them, but in the end, the good of the majority has to win out.
Many people will have great sympathy for Gurteens, who have had the rough end of town centre planning foul-ups for over 40 years, but the town centre cannot afford to be held back by these considerations.
Perhaps the councils should be looking at ways in which they can ease the difficulties that will be placed on the objectors by the scheme going ahead – smoothing out awkward accesses, upgrading Shopmobility, or whatever – but for goodness sake don’t let’s drift backwards out of fear.
It truly is a Looking-Glass world when all the engineering work to pave the street has just achieved an insubstantially-constructed car park.