Hart of the Matter
Now we are all settling down to the ‘new politics’ of coalition Government, the dust is also beginning to settle on some of its new policies and how they might affect Haverhill.
Generally, changes of government don’t have as great or as immediate effect at a local level as, for instance, a change of council, but there have already been signs that this change may filter down to us more quickly than we might have thought.
For instance, we now know that no more cash is going to be wasted on trying to create a new unitary council for Suffolk. St Edmundsbury is saved for certain now, if there was any doubt left after the recent dictat to re-think the options.
Twenty years ago, we might have been quite disappointed by that, but St Edmundsbury has come on a long way since then, and we can be grateful that Haverhill is not to be thrown on the mercies of Suffolk County Council.
I noticed some of Suffolk’s leaders were in Haverhill this week to meet our new MP. I should think most of them needed a satnav or a detailed map to find the town.
The new Government is also ditching the regional assemblies. We haven’t heard anything definite yet, but I imagine this will mean the end of the infant regional spatial strategy, and the local development framework in its current form.
It is to be expected that Lib-Dems and Conservatives will not want to create vast swathes of housing all across East Anglia like Mr Prescott did, if only because it will be very unpopular with residents, who have elected them unanimously, with the exception of Luton.
The need to pump new housing into the system to bring down prices has evaporated anyway, as the economic crash has done the job already.
Therefore, we can probably say goodbye to some of the more extreme suggestions, such as adding 25 per cent to the size of Haverhill by 2031, and plonking it all in north-east Haverhill.
This sort of planning will now be entirely down to local councils, without, presumably, any dictats from above about how much housing they will have to accommodate.
And then there was the sad irony of Castle Manor having triumphed in its long battle to become an academy, only to hear Michael Gove invite all primary and secondary schools in the country to become acadamies as well. ‘When everyone’s an academy then no one’s...’ well, that’s a bit unfair because I don’t suppose there will be a flood of applicants.
Also, where’s the money going to come from? They don’t even know where it’s going to come from for Castle Manor, let alone the whole country. The private sector? They’re just as broke as the rest of us. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme? In the current climate I’ll believe that when I see it.
In the light of all this uncertainty, let alone the many other more parochial issues which are bubbling up in Haverhill – pedestrianisation, Gurteens, the Project site, the A1307, anti-social behaviour, unemployment, etc – it was rather depressing to see the annual town public meeting last just ten minutes on Tuesday evening.
This is the opportunity which comes around once a year for residents to have their say about any issue affecting the town. A casual outsider who dropped in would have concluded that residents were either completely satisfied with the town, or else all dead.
Now, I know that neither of those is the case. So where was everyone? Does nobody care? Or, more likely, does everyone think it’s a waste of time saying anything because nobody listens? If that is the case, then it is probably a more damning indictment of our representatives than any amount of complaints would have been.
There was, however, one member of the public who had something to say – a lady from Calford Green, who made a very well argued plea against massive new development in Haverhill.
She had clearly taken the trouble to read up on the issue and understand the planning process. She made several very interesting and enlightening points, which one would have thought would lead to some good discussion.
There were a few town councillors absent from the annual meeting, but the rest of them made up a good proportion of the people present, and not one of them had any comment to make on what had been said, when invited by the mayor. So that was that.
I wonder what signal that meeting sends about how the town is represented, and how much its residents care about its future. Big society indeed!