Home Page If you can't make developers pay, who's going to build the roads? 25/03/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

I suppose it is in the nature of responses to crisis that measures proposed for dealing with it will often contradict each other. ‘Knee-jerk’ is the favourite media term.


We had a classic this week in George Osborne’s budget, which could have a serious effect on places like Haverhill.


The last six months or so – pretty much since the chancellor announced his comprehensive spending review – has been awash with talk of how the reductions in cash to the public sector would mean a greater reliance on private sector involvement if services and improvements are to be maintained.


Take the Haverhill town centre ‘master plan’. This document, which materialised five or six years ago and was intended as a blueprint for how the town centre could be developed and improved, was seen as something to be realised by private sector investment.


At its launch, St Edmundsbury Borough Council accepted there would be a need for the public sector to kick-start it, but after that others would have to take it forward.


The kick-starting happened in a variety of ways, some envisaged by the master plan, such as Tesco, and others plucked out of the air by the council, such as the cinema.


As we have now become tired of hearing, the council ploughed £20million into this series of developments, but they also attracted a lot more cash from the developers.


Tesco stumped up a goodly sum which allowed for The Pightle and Queen Street to receive some enhancement. According to town councillors, it also included funds towards renewing the railings along the Stour Brook, which must be 50 years old at least and are a complete eyesore.


Suffolk County Council is at last going to replace them, and hopefully will be able to trace that money and get St Edmundsbury to hand it over.


If the revised version of the plan for shops and business units on the old Project site gets the go-ahead, there will be a decent dividend for the town centre - £250,000, which is a lot more than the £100,000 the developers were offering last time and the only tiny benefit I can see to set against the combined failure of everyone concerned to get this in place a lot more quickly.


Put that with the £750,000 allocated by St Edmundsbury Growth Partnership for improvements to the high street and it makes £1million, which might make a difference we can actually see, although past experience shows that enhancing streetscenes can eat up money like nothing else and for very little result.


Then there is the north-west Haverhill development, which has begun to heave into view and will cover the area between Meadowlands and the Rising Sun – sorry, The Fox – bringing with it the north-west bypass for the town.


This is a grand name for the much-needed link road between the A143 to Bury and the A1307 to Cambridge, avoiding the town centre and partly freeing up the Cangle junction.


It looks pretty clear that the road will be built in advance of most of the development, thanks to pressure from various interested parties, and the developers should be footing much of the bill, as part of their planning permission deal.


They would be signing what is called a Section 106 Agreement, as did Tesco and would HPG down at the old Project site, by which developers agree to put money into schemes whose necessity will be made more apparent by the development.


You build more houses, there is more pressure of traffic, so you have to improve the road network. You build a superstore and there will be people trying to get to it so you have to put in a roundabout – or, in the case of Sainsbury’s, if you remember, quite a lot of the bypass.


It can work in other ways. Really big housing developments can affect schools, so money can be handed over to expand them or build new ones. Or there might be a need for a community centre or small estate shops (ho ho).


Now to Mr Osborne. Bowing to pressure from ‘business’, which claims it can’t grow and help the country out of this deep hole because of the restraints placed on it by planning regulations, the chancellor included in his budget a commitment to scrapping Section 106 Agreements.


So where is the cash for this sort of infrastructure going to come from now, then? Local authorities haven’t got it. They won’t be able to raise it from council tax payers because that is being frozen.


But they can’t turn round and say that we’ll have to tighten our belts and do without. This growth on the part of ‘business’ is the only thing that’s going to get us out of the hole, so we are told.


So there is a real danger that residents are going to become a doormat over which ‘business’ can walk to do what it says needs to be done, at whatever cost to the environment.


So much for green issues and ‘sustainable’ proposals.

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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