Home Page It's the old, old story of uncrossable county boundaries 17/05/13

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Hart of the Matter

The revelation that Cambridgeshire’s local authorities have included a renewal of the railway link to Haverhill among the options in the debate which will lead to their transport strategy plan seems to have come out of the blue to everyone on this side of the border.


I may be wrong. There have certainly been cross-border discussions between the councils at officer level, we have been told that much. It is possible that the little-lamented Cllr Guy MacGregor, as transport supremo for Suffolk, had a chat or two with his opposite number.


If so, it is a mystery why the Cambridgeshire vision which the latest document will help to formulate is so far at odds with the vision of corresponding documents prepared by Suffolk County Council and by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.


Even leaving the headline-grabbing railway option aside, there are a series of possible solutions to the A1307 nightmare listed in the document, none of which are detailed in anything coming out of Suffolk. There’s even a map.


The Cambridgeshire process is at a very early stage, but already Haverhill is mentioned far more often than Cambridge is mentioned in the more advanced Suffolk documents.


I suppose the Suffolk councils would argue that nearly all the transport corridor is in Cambridgeshire, so there was not much point in them having a view about something over which they have no control.


In reality, of course, the issue is very parochial as far as Suffolk and, indeed, St Edmundsbury are concerned. For geographical reasons it matters to Haverhill alone. No one in Bury or Ipswich or Lowestoft is ever affected by the A1307.


It is a bizarre quirk of history, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, that the main road from Cambridge to Colchester, instead of passing directly from Cambridgeshire into Essex, passes through about three miles of a corner of Suffolk. It so happens that Haverhill sits on those three otherwise completely unimportant miles.


So Haverhill’s arterial road, its most important link to the entire world, is of no interest or significance to the body responsible for roads, the county council.


We’ve been here before. In the 1970s it was called the A604 and, as Cambridgeshire invested in wholesale improvements to it as far as the Suffolk border, Haverhill screamed for similar improvements in Essex and for a town bypass in Suffolk.


The latter proved hugely difficult and long-drawnout to achieve, and only happened thanks initially to Sainsbury’s and then to a deputation to Whitehall instigated by Haverhill industrialist Jim Herbert.


The former was never achieved because the Essex villages didn’t want it, so Essex County Council’s policy was to downgrade the road, as eventually happened. Now the first bit is a road from Cambridge to Haverhill and nowhere else.


Braintree and Colchester, both strong shopping centres and, as the crow flies, similar in distance from Haverhill to Cambridge or Bury, are therefore not traditional destinations.


The improvements of the 1970s to what is now the A1307 are no longer anywhere near enough to deal with the current traffic flow. And we know Haverhill is to grow about 25 per cent in the next 20 years, and Cambridge, also, is to grow massively.


It is reasonable to assume that however successful Haverhill is, there will be increased travelling to Cambridge for both employment and leisure. As I have tried to point out before, the magnetic pull of Cambridge on Haverhill is like that of planetary bodies. Those who ignore it are living in a Ptolemaic system and denying the discoveries of Kepler, Galileo, Newton and others.


The Suffolk councils would like to see stronger links between Haverhill and Bury. If they had spent as much on the A143 as Cambridgeshire spent on the A604 (A1307) they might have had a chance, but they didn’t.


But the argument does not end there. A huge new element hove into view a few years ago which, again, the Suffolk councils seem to have ignored like the proverbial ostrich. Addenbrooke’s, Hospital which is already one of Haverhill’s largest employers, if not the largest, plans to double in size by 2017.


Looking at the geography, the property prices and the potential development sites, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where many of those thousands of new employees will live. And this is just a few years away, not 2031.


An outsider, given this information and presented with the plans created by the Suffolk councils and this latest Cambridgeshire document, could be forgiven for being bewildered.


It’s the wrong way round. You would expect Suffolk to be clamouring for Cambridgeshire to provide the necessary infrastructure and Cambridgeshire to be shilly-shallying, saying they have a lot of calls on very limited resources and pointing to Northstowe and Cambourne.


Instead we find Cambridgeshire taking the broader view and Suffolk almost silent. Why? One answer lies in that historic situation which creates invisible walls and makes local government officers unwilling to look beyond their borders.


The other answer is a systemic failure of representation. Haverhill suffers a huge democratic deficit. The latest south Cambridgeshire transport strategy document came before a meeting of a joint forum on Wednesday, made up of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council.


The latter, where the former St Edmundsbury planning director now fulfils a similar function across the border, is made up of villages whose prime directive will be to protect their own environment.


Did anyone from Haverhill, St Edmundsbury or Suffolk attend this meeting? Was anyone invited to have any input? If so, who? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But surely, surely, if any major decision is being made about that transport corridor, the views of Haverhill residents and, most importantly, Haverhill businesses should be represented.


I just have the horrible feeling that this could be an open door which no one has bothered to push.

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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