Home Page New candidates in the High Street blame game 02/11/12

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Hart of the Matter

Every other week nowadays there seems to be someone new to blame for the failure to sort out the problems of Haverhill High Street.


So far, someone or other has blamed the following:

Suffolk County Council for being unwilling to push through pedestrianisation; St Edmundsbury Borough Council for having no proper masterplan and for back-tracking on its pedestrianisation policy; the traders for petitioning against it; the county council (again) for favouring ‘shared space’; the disabled blue badge holders for fighting any plan to close the street; the public for not responding to a consultation; the county council (again) for not providing rear servicing on the south side; the police for not enforcing the traffic regulations; the police for enforcing the traffic regulations; the inconsiderate motorists for insisting on driving through the street and parking in it illegally.


And this week, believe it or not, we had another one – it’s all Gurteens’ fault, apparently, for refusing to agree to the street being closed off.


This may seem immensely unfair to many – and to Gurteens in particular – but that was the implication behind what the transport supremo at Suffolk County Council, Cllr Guy MacGregor, was saying.


There are quite a few objectors to pedestrianisation, and we were led to believe the county council would not go against that level of opinion and, even if they did, they would not get it through a costly public inquiry, which would therefore be a waste of public money.


But Cllr MacGregor clearly indicated that the county does not give much weight to most of the objections. The only really salient one, apparently, is from Gurteens. This sends an interesting signal to all the blue badge holders and the rest of the traders in the street, but that is by the by.


Cllr MacGregor went on to indicate that, if Gurteens were to withdraw their objection, it would be very interesting. So what is it about the Gurteens objection which sets it apart from the others?


The clue is in the detail. Cllr MacGregor said it was a salient objection on legal and technical grounds. In other words, Gurteens can bring to bear surveyors and solicitors and lots of other costly experts, which the county does not want to go against because of the cost.


Few businesses, I suspect, put in Gurteens’ position, would do otherwise, for all we may huff and puff about them standing in the way of the will of the community.


We are where we are because of successive failures by local government, so it seems a bit harsh to expect the private sector to pay for the solution. Gurteens would point out that, if those who planned Haverhill’s expansion had done their job properly, a new site would have been found for them, and their current site redeveloped at the heart of the town.


This is a bit disingenuous, because I suspect they would have been less willing to move in the days when manufacturing was carried out on that site than they are now that it is not.


But leaving that aside, the 1970 masterplan did not just ignore Gurteens site. It provided a perfectly adequate system of rear servicing via a road along the south side of the town centre from Crowland Road to Duddery Hill.


The problem was that the council, faced with a confusing mix of land ownerships, was not prepared to pay to put it in. Fearing that an alternative was eventually going to be a wholesale of demolition of the site, the council made sure it was listed by the Department of the Environment, listings now administered by English Heritage.


This currently means that none of the site can be demolished, and has already spiked various ideas for its redevelopment, either for a supermarket, or for a quaint arcade of the kind of shops which Haverhill seems constitutionally unable to support.


The deal Gurteens apparently offered recently was to withdraw their objection to street closure if the council would get their buildings de-listed, so they can sell them and build themselves premises on the edge of town.


They know that is a non-starter because of the public outcry which would ensue on any attempt to give up these Victorian jewels in Haverhill’s architectural crown.


We were also told that Gurteens want to hang on to their ‘prestigious’ High Street entrance, by which important customers can approach their premises. This is a bizarre claim as the entrance is cramped and inconvenient and leads to a poky little door to reception that doesn’t even look as if it’s the main entrance.


Surely they, too, would be better off, if they are going to stay on the site, creating a really prestigious entrance directly towards the grand fascia of the main building via the arts centre car park, breaking through the ugly wall and beautifying it with some decent gates.


There are some grand steps up into that magnificent building which could surely be employed to create the right impression. As it is, the important visitor gets no sense of what a remarkable building he is entering at all.


But the truth is probably that they don’t want to stay on the site anyway, and that it has become just as much of a millstone to them as it is to our local councillors - which is a sad fate for a building that still stands out amid 21st century Haverhill, as a reminder of an earlier heyday.


Okay, if it was in the north of England no one would look twice at it. But it isn’t – it’s in East Anglia and it is something which sets Haverhill apart from its neighbouring towns and, if used wisely in combination with more modern elements, could still be capable of helping to fill our identity vacuum.

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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