Home Page Layers of history as we move imperceptibly towards a new future 22/11/13

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Hart of the Matter

By a circuitous route we are beginning to find out the sort of thinking which is going into the making of the next master plan for Haverhill town centre, and some of it is innovative and interesting.


You wouldn’t think there would be much new to say on the issue after 40-odd years of destruction, mess-up and disaster.


But ONE Haverhill has been tasked with the job of bringing to life what, by my calculations, will be the fourth master plan for the town centre, and we can only hope it has more success than the previous three.


ONE Haverhill is doing this in secret, and I have had my say about that so many times everyone will become sick of hearing it anymore, so I shall refrain, except to point out that the decision now seems to have been made by unelected and unaccountable people, because the councillors who we actually elect voted in favour of making meetings public.


I presume that means that we can’t even change things by throwing them out at the next elections, of old the ultimate sanction of free British people. As it is, the issue is to be revisited annually, but a year is long and by then much of the master plan (we hope) will be set in stone.


Those of a literary bent might detect in that last paragraph a slight strain of Professor Tolkien, alerting the faithful to the imminent arrival of the next instalment of The Hobbit on cinema screens, but that is not the only connection.


The more powerful and secretive ONE Haverhill becomes, the more it reminds me, every time I hear it, of the ONE Ring to rule them all, ONE Ring to bind them ONE Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.


It is now so shadowy that one begins to feel its members, although they number more than nine, are probably wraiths of great sorcery, wielding weapons which disappear when the light of day shines on them.


Soon, only those hapless enough to put on the ONE Ring and fall into evil will actually be able to see them at all.


Nevertheless, we are able to discover something of their inner workings through the medium of Haverhill Area Working Party, to which they are being reported, and which meets in public.


HAWP is actually more akin to the Elves in Middle Earth, in that it seemed to be on the verge of leaving altogether through lack of anything to do, and showed little love for being involved in the present day battles such as Vision 2031.


However, HAWP does now appear to have its uses as a sort of telepathic communication with those who meet in secret.


Through this medium, we discover there are some ideas coming into consideration which might, eventually, change the world as we know it.


Foremost among these is the vision for the future shape and size of the town centre. The town centre now is, of course, no different from what it was in the Elder Days, as some still think of the time before town expansion threw down the mountains, changed the courses of the rivers and gave over so much of Haverhill to Men from London.


With a population of 27,000, as opposed to the 4,000 in those far off days of song and mirth, we probably have a narrower range of shops and facilities than we had then. In fact, there is no ‘probably’ about it – the size is the same and half the retail properties have been turned into offices or social facilities like takeaways or betting shops.


Many of the types of item which one used to be able to buy at the little independent shops, are now only purchased by going into Tesco or Sainsbury’s, if then.


Furthermore, the long single-street design makes it tough for people to stay and browse all the outlets available. So it has long been suggested the shape of the town centre should be widened.


We have heard of decking built out over Jubilee Walk car park to fill that bit in – in fact years ago there was a plan to do that in which McDonalds were to be involved, but it never happened. And we are all aware of the Dead Marshes, that space around the shut Co-op where no man walks.


However, the new thinking goes further. It suggests that the focus of the town centre might be moved to Ehringshausen Way. It imagines this partly, or wholly, pedestrianised. It envisages shops down there so people do not arrive in town at the ugly rear of things as at present.


Then the old battlefields of pedestrianisation could be abandoned and cars might once again be able to use High Street. After all, they will have to use somewhere or other to get through the town if Ehringshausen Way is shut.


It wouldn’t be the first time the town centre has moved. Back in the 12th century, which is so far back in time that even the Elves remember no songs about it, the same process was taking place. In those days the town centre was somewhere about the Clements Lane roundabout and Bevan House.


The church was behind Vine Cottages, where a Saxon cemetery was excavated before Overchurch Close was built. But the main road was where it is now – maybe Roman, although some contest that and say it was the work of Ents.


In those days, traders gravitated towards roads where potential customers might be travelling past, rather than setting up in huge hidden halls that customers would have to make a special journey to reach.


So it was that traders set up their stalls beside the Great East Road, and eventually the rest of the town followed. By the 16th century the town petitioned the king to close their old church, because they had a nice new one in the middle of the new town. That was half a mile away. This new move would just be a hundred yards. The Council of the Wise should be able to manage that.

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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