Home Page In the current High Street conundrum there may be a bigger question 27/10/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Last week’s special meeting devoted to the issue of how to take forward improvements to Haverhill High Street was unusual in many ways.


It was unusual in that there were a lot of people there with a lot of different ideas, all of them interesting in their own way. It was an unusual form of democracy which we saw in action, too. And it was unusual in that you came away with the feeling that this time, instead of the usual fudge, something will probably happen which will upset some people.


There are so many issues intertwined here that it is an intricate matter to try to disentangle them, but fundamentally there is a conflict between what the public in general want, and what those individuals want whose lives or businesses are affected by it.


It seems unlikely that this can ever be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, so some people are going to have to learn to live with a disappointing outcome.


In the past, those people have been the public, as witness the continual carping that goes on about parking, shared space, danger to pedestrians, poor retail offer, dismal street scene, and so on.


The latest proposals aim to close the high street from 10am-4pm Sunday to Thursday, and 6am-6pm Friday and Saturday to allow for the market. At other times there will be a lot fewer loading and parking areas than at present. Traffic will not be allowed to use Swan Lane as a through route, so there are knock-on effects in Crowland Road and possibly Hamlet Road.


There are those who are very dissatisfied with this idea. The shopkeepers, we were told, don’t even want the market there on a Saturday, let alone on a Friday. Gurteens, and the other businesses which operate from its yard, fear complete disaster from the street closure. Residents in Crowland Road fear traffic chaos outside their houses.


The decision-makers listening to all this were Haverhill Area Working Party, a committee of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which also has some representatives from other bodies. Also present to listen and voice opinion were the newly-formed One Haverhill board, although they could not vote.


So there were over 20 people who had something to say, and it resulted in a wide range of opinions and ideas, from telling businesses to arrange their deliveries via sack-barrow, to reversing the traffic flow in the street, both quite novel in their own way.


And there were different approaches in evidence as well, from that of mediation and compromise to that of making a decision and telling those unhappy with it to just get on with solving any problems it caused them.


But if difficulties are to be inflicted on Haverhill businesses at a time when they, in common with everyone else, are up against it anyway, we have to be sure that the overall benefit is going to be worth it.


So, perhaps the way forward is to look at what the prize of pedestrianisation may be. Is it just a matter of convenience for the shopping public and an aesthetic improvement to the town centre, or is there something more tangible to be gained?


Advocates of pedestrianisation would say, as they said of Tesco, that it must bring more ‘footfall’ – that means potential customers – into the town centre, and therefore improve the lot of the current businesses and make it more attractive to new ones.


Can that argument be sustained? That seems to me to be the question which opponents should be addressing. For instance, removal of parking and loading bays at the top of High Street could have a detrimental effect to the evening economy of the fast food outlets. That may seem a trivial point, but there is competition now in places where one can park very close to one’s target, and there will be more in future.


Part of Haverhill’s problem is that it is a one-street town and wherever you park you are going to be quite a long walk from somewhere. If, for instance, the Chauntry Shopping Centre idea of the 1990s had gone ahead, or the redevelopment of Jubilee Walk car park, or even some of the ideas in the current town centre master plan had borne some fruit, we might be in a different position.


Maybe the closure of the Co-op makes this a good time to review ways of expanding the shopping centre outwards in the middle. Or maybe the Gurteen site provides potential for a small shopping mall.


If the retail area in the centre could be expanded outwards, then a shorter length of the street could be pedestrianised to give the effect which will attract customers, and allow traffic back into the extremities.


Even better, the link road from Lower Downs Slade to Camps Road and on to Duddery Hill could be provided and the whole area within that redesigned to create a wider central shopping section.


If the whole street from the Woolpack to the White Hart was a fully pedestrianised zone, would that in itself make Haverhill a more attractive place to shop? That is the biggest question.

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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