Home Page May be sea change in view of Haverhill will wipe out county dinosaurs 23/04/13

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Hart of the Matter

That old cliché of the ripples on a pool spreading out after a stone has been thrown in could certainly apply to the public meeting held last month about pedestrianisation.


On the face of it, it seemed a predictable enough outcome – the big man from Suffolk County Council he say no and many people went away fed up, end of story.


But the ripples are still spreading out. Two of them reached two very different meetings in Haverhill on Friday. First we had our MP Matthew Hancock talking to town business people – or, as it turned out, mostly listening to what they had to say.


Then, in the afternoon, we had the new police and crime commissioner, or PCC, as he is called, Tim Passmore, holding his first St Edmundsbury police and crime panel – a public meeting in which stakeholders get to talk to him about issues that concern them.


There were few things in common between the meetings, but one name came up at both – Cllr Guy MacGregor and the effect of his public meeting.


Mr Hancock was answering a question about the transport links from Haverhill to Cambridge. He must be geared up for this now because he gets asked it by everyone everywhere he goes. Last year he faced the same question, and spoke about the guided bus scheme.


That is the current favoured policy of Suffolk County Council in the person of Cllr MacGregor, its portfolio holder for transport. The county council recently agreed its rail policy and the only mention of Haverhill was a rather vague hope of discussions with Cambridgeshire about the A1307 and a possible guided bus route.


One presumes, therefore, that news of the massive cost, disruption and initial inefficiency of the Cambridge guided bus scheme has not yet reached Ipswich.


However, Mr Hancock’s tone had changed slightly this year. He spoke about the return of the railway not as an impossible dream but as a long-term project. He confirmed that he and the people he talks to about transport issues, including the Government, have begun to consider the railway, in the light of the renewal of the Oxford-Bedford link.


Of course, the line through Haverhill is more difficult and more contentious, because it has been built over in various places. This might mean diversions or a completely new route, increasing the cost greatly.


But the view, still clung to in a nostalgic but ill-informed article recently in the Guardian, that a rail link through Haverhill is now impossible because the Tesco store sits on the site of the station, is discredited.


Nobody imagined a new railway would go along the old route through the town. I don’t think anyone would want it to even if it could, because the railway walk is a valued leisure and wildlife area.


Mr Hancock hardly mentioned the guided bus, but he did remark on how poorly Cllr MacGregor appeared to have gone down with Haverhill residents at the meeting, which he was not able to attend.


At the end of the meeting he called for a show of hands in favour of rail or guided bus, and no one voted for the latter.


Fast forward to the afternoon and town clerk Will Austin took the opportunity to urge Mr Passmore to help sort out the issue of pedestrianisation. Mr Passmore had more first-hand knowledge of the notorious meeting than Mr Hancock because he was there, and had the misfortune to be next on to speak as Cllr MacGregor walked out.


He assured everyone he had seen the strength of feeling and accepted the situation could not continue. He spoke of empowering PCSOs and members of the public to help enforce parking regulations, and he described inconsiderate parking as ‘anti-social behaviour’.


He did not pledge himself to hammer on Suffolk County Council’s door, as he is entitled to do, and demand that they come up with a solution which does not land the problem back in the lap of his over-stretched police force.


However, he has not lived with it as long as we have, and may, as everyone seems to do to begin with, hold the naive view that there must be a solution round the corner.


But he did seem to have grasped early on that Haverhill needs to be looked after and not abandoned as some sort of frontier outpost as Suffolk County Council often appears to consider it.


The business people from Mr Hancock’s meeting – and indeed Mr Hancock himself, I suspect – have a very different view. To them, if Haverhill is a frontier outpost, it is an outpost of Cambridge and the modern world, projecting into the backwater which is called Suffolk. It therefore deserves to be connected properly to Cambridge.


This is not a view which would please those in Ipswich, who seem, judging from the current transport plan, to be more concerned with our bus service to Bury St Edmunds. That is important, but mostly as a link with the now highly-rated West Suffolk Hospital.


The new census figures, showing Haverhill’s population already tops 27,000, even before the new wave of expansion being planned, and another interesting figure which emerged last week from a retail study the borough council commissioned a few years ago now, that Haverhill has a shopping catchment of nearly 47,000, should also help force the county into more realistic thinking.


Judging from what he said on Friday, Mr Passmore gets the importance of Haverhill, and the way it has been short-changed by Suffolk, and Suffolk in turn has been short-changed by Government.


Perhaps this slow dawning of realisation at all levels of government will eventually consign dinosaurs like Cllr MacGregor to extinction – or at least retirement.

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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