Home Page It's time to pull together to keep town centre traffic-free 02/08/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Either the blitz on illegal parking in Haverhill town centre has worked, or else the police have got fed up with imposing it, because there were only three fixed penalty notices issued to vehicles over the past week.


This statistic encouraged me to carry out a little experiment by walking up and down the street in the middle of a normal weekday to assess the situation.


I saw ten cars parked on either pavements or double yellow lines, but on looking at them closely I found nearly all to have the disabled blue badges displayed on the dashboard. Of course, that badge does not allow you to park on pavements, so one or two of them were still committing an offence.


In addition, you are only entitled to use a blue badge when you have the disabled person in your car. Most of the vehicles I saw were empty, having been vacated by one, apparently, able-bodied person.


Others had someone sitting in them, in some cases elderly with a stick. But, surely, the point of the badge is to allow the disabled person to access a shop or facility, not to remain in the vehicle while an able-bodied friend or relative does so?


One hesitates to suggest that the currency of blue badges must have risen in Haverhill over the last month or two, but they do seem to be remarkably prevalent. Nevertheless, there were still two vehicles not displaying the badge.


Rather more annoying was the fact that about a dozen vehicles passed me by as I walked along the street and I watched them as they used it purely as a thoroughfare with no stopping for any other purpose.


The public meeting which kicked off the police action at the beginning of June did not confine its irritation to parking in High Street and Queen Street. In fact it was equally concerned at parking in other parts of the town which were not specifically acted upon.


But it was also upset about the cavalier disregard of the traffic regulations. I couldnít see, as cars passed me, whether they were displaying blue badges, but they didnít stop so it is irrelevant as they were not there for access.


Apparently, there is a problem over the signage for the current traffic regulations which claim to close the street between 10am and 4pm except to blue badge holders. Although Suffolk County Council has finally repainted the double yellow lines, it has not addressed this issue, preferring to wait for the end of the upcoming public inquiry into the street closure.


This means the present Ďshared spaceí situation continues, which police say is impossible to enforce. Understandably, the police donít want to have to enforce any of this. They have quite enough to do dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour.

Furthermore, they donít like annoying the public, which is what tends to happen when they dish out parking fines or try to stop people driving where they want to.


Nevertheless, the public meeting was quite clear in what it requested, however obliquely the police choose to interpret it. People are fed up with the pedestrianised areas being used willy-nilly by motorists.


No doubt both police and council fondly hope the next meeting will have forgotten all about the issue, or will be attended by completely different people.


I doubt if either will prove to be the case and, if the people were different, they would almost certainly have the same grouse.


The chairman of that meeting, county councillor Tim Marks, made it clear that if people want to make sure the centre is properly pedestrianised, they need to attend the public inquiry and have their say.


There will be a strong lobby from the disabled blue badge users, you can be sure, who want the street to remain open, so they donít have to struggle steeply uphill for miles from Jubilee walk car park to High Street, or Lower Downs Slade to Queen Street.


That means the silent majority, who have been moaning about the situation for years, and only finally managed to get heard through the roundabout means of a Safer Neighbourhood Team public meeting, will need to be staunchly represented as well.


It is true that the two streets are a lot clearer than they were two months ago, and in that regard the police have done a good job in response to public pressure, but my little experiment shows how quickly that work will be undone if the pressure is not applied continually.


And that, the police are not just unwilling, but completely unable, to do. There are no traffic wardens in Suffolk now, except those who are funded privately by car park operators or publicly by councils.


There are a lot of financial pressures on Haverhill Town Council at present, and quite a bit of complaint about the increase in council tax which it imposed, so do we really want to get into a situation where we hard-pressed council tax payers have to pay for a traffic warden as well?


The simplest, and cheapest, solution is to make sure the public inquiry reflects the view of the majority of residents and users of Haverhill town centre, and that has been made clear many times over the past months and years.


Then High Street will be closed off between Quakers Lane and Duddery Road by barriers and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

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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