Hart of the Matter
After a week
away catching up with some friends in the West Country, I return to find the
public consultations about what should be in the town centre masterplan is in
I do hope
everyone is filling in the questionnaire with all their imaginative ideas.
Meanwhile, it was quite nice to stroll around other towns, as I always try to
do when in different parts of the country, and see how they are doing.
came back more encouraged than disheartened because many town centres seem to
be facing exactly the same problems as Haverhill, so we are not alone.
that, but they seem to have come up with some of the same solutions. Whether
this is due to the Internet, to some new book which has come out called How To
Stop Your Town Centre’s Decline, or whether it is just because great minds
think alike, I have no idea.
instance, I saw in action in more than one town the suggestion, which the Kent
Business School came up with and which ONE Haverhill is now taking forward, to
have brightly coloured artwork of local public information plastered over the
windows of empty shops.
quite good, I have to say, and it certainly brightened up the street scene. I
believe a stumbling block to the idea in Haverhill so far has been the difficulty
of engaging with the owners of town centre premises to get permission and
Some of the
examples I saw of this idea in other towns showed that their community leaders
had not let any such problems stand in their way. They had had huge graffiti-proof
laminated panels made up and just fixed them to the outside of the windows.
I guess the
cost of that is a lot greater than posters fitted inside, but it did at least
show a praiseworthy ‘can-do’ attitude.
would not be any use as a community leader because I wouldn’t have any patience
with these absentee landlords over the alleyways either. Why not have them
panelled and painted, or whatever else you want to do to cheer them up and make
them less intimidating to visitors and see what happens.
landlords want to take any action they will have to make themselves known and ‘engage’
to that degree. I doubt if they would bother, anyway. But, of course, that is
not the way things are generally done in this country.
have to go through ‘due process’, which usually results in something positive being
delayed for long enough that it never happens.
me to the subject of two bogged-down sites in Haverhill town centre – the two most
important sites, as it happens. While movement on the Gurteen site is deferred
until the masterplan consultation is over, the old Co-op in Jubilee Walk looks
as dead as ever.
presume that the masterplan will prioritise these two sites and the problem of traffic
flow as the three most important issues in the town centre – at least I imagine
they will if they take any notice of what the public tell them.
I have reminisced
often enough about Gurteens, so perhaps it is time to look more closely at
Jubilee Walk, which is an everyday story of ineptitude.
the decision by Sainsbury’s to build a store there as part of the redevelopment
of the site of the old Ram pub and its neighbouring properties was one of the
best and most sensible plans ever to be executed in the town centre.
At a stroke
it brought us our first really big supermarket, a load of car parking space and
a widening of the high street’s retail envelope. Glasswells took the prestige
corner development and we gained the first little side lane of shops and the
first pedestrianised area.
It was the
mid 1970s, and in its way the development was as exciting and significant as
that of Queen’s Square was at the other end of town more than a decade earlier.
have imagined that within 40 years of each of these being created they would
come to symbolise the decline of each area.
Both areas have
also been ‘refurbished’ by St Edmundsbury Borough Council over recent years,
although in the case of Queen’s Square it was only the forecourt of it, as the
council does not own the square itself.
But I wonder
whether anyone who did not know this would be able to identify any evidence of
either of these much-trumpeted projects. The horse-trough and the cat are about
all that survive to tell the tale and I doubt if many visitors notice either.
Square is privately-owned, the Co-op and Jubilee Walk publicly-owned, but it
makes no difference. In fact, in an indirect way we, the people of Haverhill,
own the old Co-op. It’s just that we can’t get at it to do anything about it
because of some stupid lease and the attitude of the leaseholders.
Sainsbury’s moved out of town 25 years ago, there was none of this long-drawn-out
uncertainty. With the announcement of the move came the revelation that the
Co-op was to take over the store.
uncertainty was created it was over the fate of the former Co-op building, that
wonderful and underrated creation opposite the market square which now houses
Peacocks and Argos.
that, by allowing the retailers to set up the other side of Ehringshausen Way,
as Aldi and then Tesco did, the council have shot the potential for their own (I
should say our own) asset in the foot.
So we come
back to the old complaint that there has never been any joined-up thinking at
work here. If the masterplan could at least deliver that, it will not have been
a vain exercise.