Home Page In a changing world we may find ouselves back where we started 04/03/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Over the years there have been several occasions when the cyclical nature of things is brought home to us, at local, national and even international levels.


In a world where new technology is progressing a lot faster than some of us older generation can keep up with, it can seem out of place to rehearse that old saying about there being nothing new under the sun.


But systems of democratic government have a limited number of formats and the answer to a failure of one of them seems always to be a reversion to another one that has supposedly failed in the past.


There is no need to expound this to anyone who has ever worked in a large business organisation, where the same dynamic seems to apply, from centralisation to localisation and back again, depending on each new coterie of management.


But local government is the area where this cyclical change syndrome reaches its apotheosis, and we have seen it again this week with the suggestion that some form of West Suffolk entity may be emerging.


Along with Rutland and Middlesex, West Suffolk County Council disappeared under re-organisation in 1974. Rutland has since made a triumphant return, and newer creations such as Avon have bitten the dust.


The impetus for West Suffolk came out of a Local Government Review which briefly raised hopes that Suffolk County Council might be broken up, initially to take Ipswich and Lowestoft out of it.


The idea of West Suffolk proved attractive to councils which are fed up with seeing massive time and resources taken up by these large centres of population in the east of the county.


But it is the doom of local government that there will always be a larger centre and a smaller centre in any region. Ipswich is to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk as Bury St Edmunds is to Haverhill in St Edmundsbury – the planet around which its moon must orbit, and the moons always resent it.


However, West Suffolk is in a slightly more complex situation, because technology and globalisation have given a much greater pulling power to neighbouring planets and we have a huge one to the west called Cambridge.


Even Bury feels its pull, and as for Newmarket, Brandon, Mildenhall and, of course, Haverhill, there is no escaping it.


There seems to be a built-in resistance in the rest of Suffolk to acknowledging the importance of Cambridge, and that alone is an encouragement to those who see West Suffolk as having the potential to be partly self-contained.


Ipswich is, to paraphrase the words of the Elves of Middle Earth, east of the empty lands and west of the sea – in other words, out on a limb - and does not seem to recognise other power bases affecting Suffolk.


Suffolk County Council is currently preparing its new transport plan for the next 20 years, and the priorities it has identified for Haverhill are topped by a need to improve the bus route to Bury. There is no mention of the A1307, Cambridge, Audley End, Braintree, etc. They might just as well not exist.


Of course, they are in neighbouring counties and outside the purlieu of Suffolk County Council, but if Suffolk is not going to fight the corner of Haverhill - or Newmarket or Sudbury for that matter – in addressing cross-border issues, then who is?


It is good to see that St Edmundsbury is urging Suffolk to include a policy of working closely with Cambridgeshire over the A1307, and that is a start.


But although there may be a good few people who want to travel to Bury, it cannot be Haverhill’s top priority destination.


If there were a West Suffolk, one would like to think that, although the Haverhill-Bury route would still be a focus of attention, there would be a greater appreciation of the other dynamics which exist in this corner of the county.


And that is just on the issue of transport. Other areas could be brought in – police, health, planning, etc. So one can see that pushing towards a return to the pre-1974 idea – which had endured, pretty much, for centuries – could have benefits way beyond the short-term savings which have driven the district and borough councils to work together more closely.


At an even more local level, Haverhill Town Council, although it may never represent a return to the urban district council which existed here before 1974, is spreading its wings a little and gaining more independence to make important local decisions locally.


Old theories of larger organisations being cheaper to run – economies of scale – may no longer prove to be correct. As localisation begins to gather speed under pressure from the current Government, cheaper ways of delivering local services locally will be found out of necessity, the mother of invention.


That has to be good news for everyone, particularly for Haverhill, which has suffered at the hands of distant local government for nearly 50 years.


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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