Home Page Is Haverhill set for another house-building tsunami? 18/06/10

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Hart of the Matter

Whether or not you believe in ‘new politics’, you have to admit that you do not always get what you expect from the people you elect nowadays, even if it’s your choice that gets in. Old tribal loyalties may get watered down under the new system.

I don’t suppose Gandalf had any particular politics other than to resist the Mordor jackboot, but I have always guessed his present day impersonator Sir Ian McKellen to be a little to the Left, if only because of his long and laudable career as a gay rights activist.

Sir Ian turned the spotlight on a particularly fatuous piece of proposed legislation several months ago, which he claimed could bring an end to the inclusion of children and young people in stage performances.

It was another ridiculous tightening of the laws governing the circumstances under which young people can act and the safeguards that have to be in place protect them, which were to be extended to the rehearsal room.

I may be wrong, but I wonder what the esteemed theatrical knight thinks of the fact that it has taken a (partly, at least) Conservative government to return us to common sense in these areas.

Similarly, I am beginning to wonder how the generally Tory or Lib-voting villages around Haverhill will react to the possible results of the removal of the regional assemblies they despised so much.

It is not impossible that this could open the floodgates to a very large expansion of Haverhill indeed. In general, Haverhill, in the person of its town councillors at any rate, appears to want to grow significantly.

And for all the derision that has been heaped on John Prescott’s giant estimates of the future housing need in East Anglia, no one can deny that there will be considerable pressure for new homes, even in the current economic climate. After all, people have got to live somewhere.

But nobody wants it – except, possibly, Haverhill. Now that these sorts of decisions will be down to individual local authorities, it isn’t going to be long before they are all looking for somewhere to take the pressure. And here is Haverhill with, apparently, its arms wide open.

If this has a horribly familiar ring to local people aged over 70, it is not surprising. People a lot younger than that who remember, for instance, the delightful flowery Chalkstone hills, or the water meadows along what is now Ehringshausen Way, might now be turning a nervous glimpse towards that pleasant path from Chalkstone Way to Calford Green.

When we gather that Haverhill’s town councillors are likely to ask for even more housing - now that the option might be open because of demise of the regional spatial strategy - their silence in the face of the concerns of a Calford Green resident who attended the annual town meeting last month seems even more significant.

Of course, one can see why they are doing it. It is a long-established theory that the panacea to Haverhill’s problems is dramatic growth. This theory maintains that the town has never quite grown fast enough, so it has always been short of the facilities it needs – and presumably always will be unless it puts in a major spurt to catch up to the bigger boys.

Back in the days when Labour were in power at St Edmundsbury (imagine that!) the council commissioned a report into what the further development potential of Haverhill was, as the Masterplan of 1970 was almost completed. The answer, if I remember rightly, was an upper limit of around 40,000 population.

If you consider that the town’s population in 1980 was around 17,500 and has now, after 30 years of continuous development at one pace or another, reached little more than 23,000, you will see the sort of tsunami that could be cranking up.

Under the regional spatial strategy, a further 2,500 homes would have been built up to 2031, mostly in north-east Haverhill if St Edmundsbury got its way. At 2.2 per house that would have increased the size of the town by about a quarter.

This is the big debate – between retaining our comfortable, market town status, and going for broke on something much, much bigger. In between is no good. If the lessons of the past have taught us anything at all, it is that. The giant expansion envisaged in the 1960s ground to a halt less than a decade later and left a lot of problems.

Just having a chunk of growth, as the spatial strategy proposed, is the worst of all worlds because it would produce more of the same – population without adequate facilities.

The status quo is not great, but whenever I see the congestion and parking problems of other towns I realise again how fortunate we still are in many ways.

Alternatively, it’s the big gamble, to get quickly up to the size which might attract and fund the retailers and other facilities we recognise that we lack. Who’s game for 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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