Home Page Is ONE Haverhill our dragon-slayer or do we wait for another? 29/11/13

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Hart of the Matter

For all the imperfections surrounding ONE Haverhill, it was nevertheless very interesting to hear about the wide range of ideas which were thrown in at their recent workshop about the town centre master plan.


As was pointed out recently by councillors, this stands in stark contrast to the lack of results from the £10,500 stakeholder consultation exercise commissioned by Suffolk County Council from private consultants in September.


If ever there was an argument for ‘localism’, whatever that means – and it appears that even its messiah David Cameron has forgotten all about it – it must be the way in which reasonably local people, or at least people who deal with matters locally, can be brought together so much more effectively than anything those from outside ever achieve.


It is not too imaginative to lay almost all of Haverhill’s difficulties over the past 40 years to the door of the failure to understand, or maybe just to accept, the truth of that premise.


Ever since 1974 when Haverhill Urban District Council was brought to an end and the town was handed over to the tender mercies of St Edmundsbury, and West Suffolk County Council became just Suffolk County Council based in Ipswich, the town has basically been run at arm’s length by people who never grasped the crucial issues because they rarely, if ever, came here.


Maybe this is replicated all over the country within local government, which could account for an awful lot of failures in town planning.


It’s that old, old myth that if you are a trained ‘manager’, you don’t have to know anything about an issue, or a business, to make decisions about it.


Experienced councillors in Bury or Ipswich have always thought they know best, in the same way as incapable managers every day in Britain make palpably ridiculous decisions about businesses which they don’t understand because they never worked in them.


But you can’t tell them anything – they know it all, and they charge on in denial at the head of the train speeding directly towards the edge of a cliff which all the desperately frustrated passengers know is there.


Haverhill has been such a train and the residents have been such passengers for decades. Every now and again, someone with a bit more nous than the others comes up with something useful which helps redirect progress, but it soon drifts back again, usually due to ‘lack of resources’ – by which is meant a need for resources elsewhere, usually somewhere more affluent.


Another little ruse they come up with, when a tiny inkling dawns on them that everything that has happened so far has not been quite perfect, is to ‘consult the people’. It’s a way of shifting the blame when things don’t work out.


They pretty much know things won’t work out because there are only too possible results of consultation with the public – the right answer and the wrong answer. If they get the right answer, by which they mean what they wanted to do anyway, something cheap, stopgap, or even nothing at all, then they are alright and they go ahead with great trumpeting about how they listened to people, how they are being more than fair in the apportioning of our money, etc.


If they get the wrong answer, by which they mean something major, expensive or likely to create a rival to their little empires, they quietly bury it and then come back to consult again in the hope that, eventually, they will get the right answer from the people, even if only out of sheer boredom with the whole process.


Now ONE Haverhill is different. It is approaching things from a Haverhill perspective. You can tell that because it has already floated some ideas which would cost eye-watering amounts and seem like the height of utopia. The big test will be to see how seriously some of these are pursued.


You may remember the initial Vision 2031 consultation, when the public were invited to make any and every suggestion, however wild or unattainable it may seem. So they did, but unfortunately the planning officers whipped through them sifting out anything interesting and reducing the document to their usual level of comfortable, bland platitudes.


No one stood up to them until too late as far as the draft document is concerned, so now it is up to the planning inspector to weigh the issues raised.


If the draft master plan process which ONE Haverhill is carrying out follows the same course, then we might as well all leave the train, run outside and jump of the cliff for ourselves.


Of course, it will have to face the dragon of the planning department at St Edmundsbury eventually. But if it has been coherently constructed and properly argued it will be like going into battle with some armour and some weapons at least.


Hopefully, it will not be possible for the planners to emasculate a document which so clearly represents the will of both the public and the local representatives of government, business, the agencies and the community.


The planners will doubtless come under pressure from their masters – the distant councillors in Bury and Ipswich – to find a way of watering the whole thing down to save money or to save face, or both. Aspirations which remain unachieved imply a failure of the organisation, which would not improve their chances of showing off their effectiveness nationally, which they just love doing.


There is a long way to go and many battles to fight, but at least ONE Haverhill appears to have made an encouraging start, and you have to start somewhere.

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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