Home Page Mad Hatter's Tea Party - only with buildings 01/02/13

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Hart of the Matter

So what are we to make over this latest rumpus over the Burton Centre? Quite the most bizarre one I can remember in Haverhill, and that is saying a lot.


To begin with, the building is only there due to a quirk of fate – although there are some who believed otherwise at the time. Back in the dim distant past, Haverhill library was in a portable building located at the top of Lower Downs Slade.


It was a bit like a single story version of the Crown Health Centre, but a hundred yards to the east and painted, if I remember rightly, dark green.


A bit further east stood one of Haverhill’s iconic buildings, Burton Cottage, which looked as if it might once have been a film set for a low-budget Gothic horror story along the lines of Dracula. It was a quaint and distinctive building which had been the home of the Boardman family.


It was behind the brick wall which still runs along the lower part of Camps Road, and has a curious little door in it, which always made me think it must lead to The Secret Garden. In fact, it did, because Burton Cottage had a very nice enclosed garden.


The family eventually gave the building to West Suffolk County Council for use by the community, and it was devoted to becoming a youth centre. Many will have fond memories of it in those days.


That part of the town was a hotch-potch of little bits of land owned by different people (still is, I believe), and was earmarked in the 1970 Master Plan for part of a southern rear access road, running from Crowland Road to Duddery Hill, roughly along the line of the passageway beside the Bull.


Partly because of the complex ownerships, the road was never built, much to Haverhill’s subsequent disadvantage. At that time, however, the biggest thing in the way was the library.


In fact, it all became a bit of a problem for what was now Suffolk County Council, which ran both library and youth services, because they had more property than was really needed in that area.


I can’t remember if the youth centre was closed, or just badly under-used, but it was certainly a white elephant. Then one day – or rather, one night – a miracle happened. Some little tearaway must have got into Burton Cottage and set fire to it. It was gutted. No one was ever caught or prosecuted.


But it gave the county council the chance to put the two facilities together in one place, and a new purpose-built Burton Centre arose from the ashes, leaving the old library site free to become additional car parking.


Purpose-built is the key phrase here. The building was created to do the job it then went on to do for 20 years or so. But in 2011 the county council decided to axe its location-based youth services in Haverhill, so part of the building became redundant. The county also decided to hive off its libraries to a private provider.


It looked around for someone to take over the building. Haverhill Town Council jumped at it, because they were looking for somewhere to base youth services they want to provide to fill the gap left by the county.


You might think that was a good fit. However, the county council, and at least one local county councillor, had other ideas. They favoured a bid from St Nicholas Hospice to create an outreach centre.


Now this is badly needed in Haverhill and almost critic-proof. So the town council, claiming the bidding process was unfair, asked where they could have for youth services. Now the county have suggested the former courthouse, a little further up Camps Road, vacated by Cartwheels when they moved to their new Clements building.


Meanwhile, opposite the courthouse is Place Court, a care home which the county council is also hiving off to a private provider, Care UK, who have promised to replace it with a new building on the site of the former Chalkstone Middle School. The county will give them that site and no doubt hopes to sell the Place Court site for development.


In all this, nobody appears to have sat down, looked at the map, the facilities available and the facilities required and tried to put the jigsaw together sensibly. Instead, like some modern-day Gumbys, they attempt to force square pegs into round holes.


It is the old, old Haverhill story, where decisions are made by people who don’t know the town. We now have a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party where the tea things are always there and the people move round the table until they are used up.


I have to agree with Haverhill Town Council that it does seem the height of lunacy at a time when resources are short and everyone is cutting back, for hundreds of thousands of pounds to be spent turning a site into a youth centre with associated outdoor facilities, while just down the road hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent on converting a youth centre with associated outdoor facilities into a hospice outreach centre – and then a few yards away a care home is to be knocked down.


But the worst thing is that this sort of lunacy is not uncommon in towns all over the country. The Government is aware of it and has put together a new idea of community budgeting, where one over-arching organisation looks at all the resources and requirements and balances them.


This splendid idea is being pioneered in ten places across Britain. One of them is Haverhill. At the moment we are falling at the first fence.

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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