Home Page If we recognise outrageous failings we can overturn them 21/09/12

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

The history of Haverhill in recent years has been one of roadblocks set up by organisations and authorities based a long way away and divorced from the local scene.


Perhaps the biggest cause for celebration of Haverhill’s success is the way that such roadblocks have often been overcome by sheer determination from residents and local representatives.


An obvious one was the bypass which, although part of the original masterplan, had been denied the town by local authorities and Government for years. When Sainsbury’s moved out to Hanchet End it gave the opportunity for ‘planning gain’ which enabled the first part to be built up to Camps Road, but for some years we lived in this limbo of an uncompleted bypass that went nowhere.


It needed a deputation to Whitehall from senior local Conservatives and the town’s MP to finally force the project to be completed.


There have been many such stories down the years, involving ambulances, defibrillators, sports facilities, the arts centre and so on. They follow the same route – something is to be axed, or not provided, which local people can see is important but which decision-makers in a far-away tower think we can do without.


Local people get together to fight the decision, often with success. When they are not successful, it is often a cause of regret. I still believe Tesco should have been built with the main road going around the back of it so it could be more closely integrated with the town centre.


But usually common sense prevails and the organisation concerned has to back-track. You’d think they’d learn, but not a bit of it.


Look at this year. NHS Suffolk axes the walk-in health centre. Suffolk County Council drops the pedestrianisation scheme. Both decisions will now be fought tooth and nail and I would not be surprised to see a change, if not a U-turn. In the case of NHS Suffolk it will be its successor organisation that has to think again.


Perhaps this determination to defy local authorities and agencies stems from the 1960s when the town failed to pull together to fight the closure of the railway to any effect. We certainly ought to have learned from that disaster.


But it is also fuelled by the ‘little brother’ syndrome. Haverhill always appears to be the minor partner, the smaller player in whatever geographical area it is forced into. Had we, when the offer was open in the early 1970s, opted to become part of South Cambridgeshire, where Haverhill would have been the biggest settlement, things would have been very different.


Instead we suffered years of being the second town in St Edmundsbury and losing out to Bury. That may be less true now, but mud sticks. Now we regularly lose out in Suffolk, despite being about to overtake Felixstowe and become the fourth largest town in the county after Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury.


But we mostly only lose out when we don’t stand up for ourselves. Of course, there will be fights that you cannot win, and decisions which have been made and will never be reversed whatever you say or do.


But we saw over the Olympic Torch Relay that a bit of pressure correctly applied can work. Lollipop people have not been axed after all.


If those fighting for health provision, or for pedestrianisation, want a role model to look to they could do worse than take note of Samuel Ward’s project to create a special school in the town.


I think this is one of the more heart-warming and encouraging stories I have heard in a long time, because it shows that if you are prepared to take a risk and stand up for what you think is right you can (sometimes) surprise the establishment and come out on top.


Basically, Haverhill has been neglected in this area for far too long. There have been many campaigns and many ideas for sites for a special school, but children with special educational needs still have to travel long distances to schools in other towns. Everyone else seems to have one – Bury, Sudbury, Newmarket, Ipswich and so on.


But not Haverhill. So you would think Samuel Ward’s bid to create one, under the new free school system the Government has introduced, would have been welcomed with open arms by everyone.


Well, it was by everyone here, but not by Suffolk County Council, who refused to back the bid. Without the county committing to buy a certain number of places, the school would not be viable, so that ought to have put the kibosh on it.


Not just Haverhill was affected as the county refused to back seven other free school bids in Suffolk. Their argument for not backing a special school in Haverhill was that it would dilute the cash available for other special schools in the county – in Bury, Sudbury, Ipswich etc.


Fortunately, Samuel Ward went ahead anyway, to the astonishment of county officials, and had their bid accepted. One of the conditions is that the county now backs the project, which it probably will, or it would have to explain to the Department for Education why not.


Samuel Ward’s head Howard Lay described the current situation of the most vulnerable children in the town having to travel huge distances to school as ‘an outrage’, which it clearly is. Perhaps we need to cut through organisational flannel, recognise more ‘outrages’ for what they are and develop the belief to overturn them, whatever the risk.

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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