Home Page It may have been a landmark week for Haverhill's future development 06/02/14

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Hart of the Matter

What a week for Haverhill! Itís been quite hard to keep up with everything that has been going on over the past few days, what with the Vision 2031 public inquiry, the decision about the Nosterfield End wind turbine and then the meeting about rail renewal and A1307 improvements.

 

After the dust has settled this may well be seen as something of a landmark week, in that quite a bit of progress seems to have been made, particularly in the field of transport infrastructure. The downside Ė and there always is one Ė is some disappointment at the woolly nature of much of the planning guidelines under which Haverhill will be developed over the next 20 years.

 

The transport meeting this morning certainly was a landmark because, for the first time, seriously big players attended to lend support and get in on the pressure for both dualling of the A1307 and renewing the railway.

 

Maybe it was because Suffolk County Council didnít get there at all, apart from our own Cllr Tony Brown, that there was so much positivity flying around.

 

Earlier in the week, the Government inspector examining Vision 2031 had indicated he thought it sensible that work towards dualling and rail renewal should be acknowledged in the document, although without any commitment.

 

This would make it the very first formal document emanating from St Edmundsbury Borough Council to even admit to being aware the idea existed, and as such marks a step in the right direction.

 

Then the meeting itself was addressed by Cambridgeshire County Councilís portfolio holder for growth and planning, and its head of transport policy and strategy, and it was immediately apparent that these were very different individuals from what Suffolk County Council produces.

 

Instead of being junior, ill-informed, inarticulate or disinterested, these were smart people who knew their stuff and were eager to be involved. You could tell that Haverhill was very important to them and to their area, rather than being somewhere insignificant and tucked out of the way in a corner best forgotten.

 

When they look at Haverhill they see exciting economic opportunity rather than just a depressing load of costly challenges, which is often the impression Suffolk conveys.

 

It spoke volumes, of course, that, on a day of travel disruption, Ipswich to Haverhill proved impossible, while a good proportion of the people in the room had come from Cambridge.

 

Exactly how difficult travel from Ipswich was may have been open to a little doubt in that the chairman of the rail renewal group, 84-year-old Rev Malcolm Hill, managed to drive himself to Haverhill quite comfortably from Sudbury.

 

Haverhillís MP Matthew Hancock paid tribute to Mr Hill, who started the rail renewal campaign 18 years ago and has clung on to the idea tenaciously when everyone told them they were completely bonkers.

 

The main message to come out of the meeting was that all these parties have got to work together and that they have to establish a broadly-based case across the wider economy of the area for a railway, not just the narrow issue of passenger transport and the A1307 corridor.

 

A wider vision was also the key to what Haverhill Town Council wanted the Vision 2031 inspector to get stuck into in his report, but without much success.

 

The inspector, Roger Clews, may have been a bit mystified as to why the town council and the several residents who spoke wanted him to get involved in such detailed matters as pedestrianisation, land ownership, town centre gateways, relief road provision, country parks, a museum, etc.

 

All these, he thought, were more appropriately dealt with by the town centre masterplan or the Wilsey Park masterplan, when they are finalised Ė and you can see why he might conclude that.

 

These masterplans will be put together by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, with close input from Suffolk County Council, and what he perhaps does not realise is that the town council and Haverhill residents have completely lost any trust in these organisations to work ambitiously in the townís best interests.

 

They were seeking an independent force with clout to set down something which these bodies would have to take note of Ė as with the dualling and the rail renewal.

 

Sadly, the town council and the residents generally fear that, if left to their own devices, these two august bodies, based far away, will succeed in shafting Haverhill yet again.

 

For their part, it was clear the borough councilís aim is to make many of the policies in the document as woolly as possible, to leave them free to interpret them in whatever way they wish. Every time anything specific was suggested, they replied it would be too prescriptive at this stage, which means they want to get out of doing anything about it.

 

Itís a system dating back long before even Sir Humphrey Appleby that anything that is not mentioned in a formal policy document doesnít need to be worked on, whereas something which is, does, and a watertight sentence means you have to accept it for what it means, whereas a woolly sentence can be interpreted in whatever way seems most convenient at any given moment.

 

The inspector did grind them down a bit over the provision of the north-western relief road, but they still managed to make it as indefinite as possible and it will be interesting to see what, if any, modification he requires on that issue.

 

But, all in all, it wasnít a bad week for those who take a long-term view. Was there something else? I thought there was. Oh, yes, the planners threw out the Nosterfield End wind turbine. It was a triumph for the protesters and good luck to them, even though I donít happen to see a problem with it. Sadly, I fear they may lose on appeal.

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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