Home Page If you're a Jedi can't you park your spacecraft in the sky? 16/08/13

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Hart of the Matter

In the nearly 40 years since I began reporting on the saga of Haverhill High Street and when or whether it is to be pedestrianised I thought I had seen everything.


There have been good ideas and bad, attractive plans and dreary ones, clever bits of thinking and rank stupidity, but this week I have seen something which, in some ways, tops the lot.


Suffolk County Council, who were bequeathed this ongoing soap opera by St Edmundsbury Borough Council about five series ago, have decided to try a new method of coming up with a decision. Note that I do not say solution, because whatever they decide will be unacceptable to somebody so the fight will go on.


You may remember that in the climactic episode which ended the last series, the councilís then transport supremo Cllr Guy MacGregor managed to alienate virtually everybody with an extraordinarily patronising performance at a Safer Neighbourhood Team public meeting.


He is missing from the cast list when the new series begins in September. His place has been taken by Cllr Graham Newman, as a result of the shake-up which followed the May elections, where the Tories got a bloody nose from UKIP, particularly round here.


But Cllr MacGregorís words linger on. He told that meeting that there would be a Grand Stakeholder Consultation Day - which I, in tribute to the acronyms so beloved of council officers, am dubbing a GCSD - to elicit the views of everyone concerned and work towards a decision.


This is the process which took place in Sudbury earlier in the year, where the council wanted pedestrianisation, but the consultation found stakeholders were against it and the idea was dropped.


One feels that, if anything, the opposite will be true here. Anyway, this GCSD is now set for early in September, but it will be admission by invitation, so it isnít the free-for-all public meeting so beloved of Haverhill residents.


However, during the intervening weeks a public consultation is taking place on-line (forgive me if you feel you may have heard this before). The closing date for that is a few days before the GCSD, so its results can be fed into the process on the day, presumably Ė or else discreetly ignored.


Then a few days after the GCSD, the results of the on-line consultation will be displayed publicly in Haverhill, so we can see what it was they took into account or ignored. Once you analyse it, you find this process is little different from many that have taken place over Vision 2031 and look where that has got us.


It also seems not unlike the process a couple of years ago which elicited such a tiny sample it was able to sway the decision in an unlooked-for direction (unlooked-for by many of us, that is. Who knows what the county council is looking for?)


Nevertheless, I urge you to take part and, in pursuit of that aim, I took an early peek at the online questionnaire myself. The first three questions are to check how local you are, who you represent and how you found out about it. That sort of stuff, I always think, should go at the end.


However, we then get into the serious stuff with six questions. The first wants you to choose between improving the town centre, pedestrianising it or allowing greater access. How does one do that? The aim should surely be to achieve a measure of all three Ė the only choice is whether pedestrianisation is the best way of doing that, and the question doesnít allow you to address that dilemma at all.


The next four ask for your Ďviewí on parking, public transport, walking and cycling and disabled access. This is very open, but rather dependent on how articulate people can be, and then on how these views are interpreted. There is no voting to be counted, so no very exact way on monitoring and assessing what these views represent.


That is the end of page one. So now, I thought, we shall get into the more detailed stuff, and this is where we seem to depart into Alice in Wonderland territory again.


The next (and last) page is devoted to nine questions, which you donít have to complete at all if you donít want to, about your sexual orientation, ethnic origin and religious belief. There are two valid questions, about age and disability. But, if we are to find out 18 things about peopleís views on Haverhill High Street, does one of them really need to be whether or not they have ever identified as transgender?


How does your religious belief or your ethnic origin affect what you think about pedestrianisation? If you are a Bangladeshi do you not need to park anywhere? If you are Scottish do you need more cycle space? Does being a Buddhist prevent you from walking far? If you are gay do cars parked on double yellow lines offend you? And, if you are not bisexual, gay man, lesbian or straight, I hope the box marked Ďotherí is for celibates.


Why do they need to waste time and space trying to find out any of this? It canít be a legal requirement because it isnít mandatory. If they are looking for an equal cross-section of society they wonít get it because I suspect most Haverhill people will tick the box that says they would rather not specify because it is none of anyone elseís business.


We must just hope an equal cross-section is not achieved by ignoring those who would rather not specify.


Of course, all this may have been on the last on-line questionnaire. I donít know because I didnít look at it. If you remember, only 106 people out of 27,000 did. At least letís not repeat that.

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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