Hart of the Matter
All those important people in one room to talk about Haverhillís transport links! You wouldnít have believed it a year ago. So the railway enthusiasts, however quixotic they appear to be to many people, have achieved something.
The discussions are to continue between the main parties. We may get a railbus to Stansted. One day in the dim, distant future, if that is successful, we may get a railbus to Cambridge. If the business lobby bangs on about it long enough, we may even get some more dual carriageway between Haverhill and Four Went Ways. That was the view of those present.
It seems to me that most people are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. Although the most pertinent question anyone asked was about whether there was a transport strategy for Haverhill, and if not, why not, in the end, Haverhill is not the centre of the universe.
Someone may sponsor a railbus, which may work or may not work, but even that is only because it will go to Bury as well.
As everyone kept saying with monotonous certainty, there is no money about for any big projects just to sort out the problems of little old Haverhill. The councils donít have it and the Government is certainly not going to fund the hundreds of millions which a railway would cost, just to benefit Haverhill, whether it would be purely socially, as the business people claim, or economically as others might interpret it.
Whether Haverhill has a population of 22,000 which our councils apparently thought until a few months ago, or 27,000, as the census now shows, itís a tiny drop in the ocean.
The fact that there is no transport strategy for Haverhill reflects the low priority it has in the deliberations of Suffolk and St Edmundsbury, and the fact that it is in the corner of three counties, which means no one will take any responsibility for it except its own town council which hasnít got the resources to lavish on such a study.
So we look down the wrong end of the telescope and see a tiny problem with, therefore, no available resources.
Why in heavenís name does no one seem able to turn the telescope around? This is not Haverhillís problem. It is Cambridgeís problem.
Cambridge and Cambridgeshire seem to have grasped this fact in a way which no one at the rail meeting has. It was just a pity they werenít represented, but that in itself shows the true picture.
Cambridgeshire doesnít care about Haverhill. It hasnít put a line on a map for a railway Ė albeit a tentative option in a preliminary draft document Ė for the benefit of Haverhill.
That line is there, and all the other lines on that map, and suggestions in the document of which it forms a part, are there because Cambridge has a problem on a scale which we cannot even conceive of.
It is expanding on a massive scale economically and, as everyone knows, if you canít keep up with that sort of expansion, the bubble will burst. Cambridge has to do something radical about its infrastructure. And this is a county which has spent an amount on its little guided bus scheme which other authorities could not begin to contemplate.
Therefore, it looks at huge, unimaginably huge projects and does not say that there is no money, because there has to be money. Even the Government knows that.
So a solution will be found, because it has to be found. And if business people think Cambridgeshire is going to spend a fortune on dualling the whole A1307 to land more vehicles on its doorstep that bit more efficiently, they are living in the 20th and not the 21st century.
The Stansted railbus puzzled me the first time around. You may remember they put an express bus on from Bury St Edmunds to Stansted some years ago, but it flopped and had to be taken off in the end because it was not used enough.
Maybe things have changed. Maybe it will be used more no, if they go ahead with it. But I have never heard anyone complain to me that they cannot get to Stansted by public transport.
People do complain about the link to Bury St Edmunds, but that is for West Suffolk Hospital and I doubt if the Stansted express bus will wander all the way around to there before it hurtles off south-west.
The biggest fear is that they go ahead with this, marketing it now as a sort of virtual railway and putting Haverhill station on the rail maps and then it is not supported again.
If it becomes a drain on resources, that could put the kibosh on trying a similar experiment with the Cambridge service. As it stands the 13 and 13X buses are regular enough and, I believe, among the best supported that Stagecoach run in the region.
But some of them take for ever to get out of Haverhill and for ever to get out of Cambridge. Something needs to be done about that now, not when the Stansted model has been tried out.