Hart of the Matter
You have to hand it to St Edmundsbury Council in recent years – they do try very hard to get people to like them and show some gratitude for all the great things they have done.
A bit like the colonial British – who appear to have modelled themselves on their idea of God – they spend much of their time in a state of bewilderment at the ingratitude of the people they rule.
Even St Edmundsbury themselves are beginning to realise that Haverhill people are getting a bit fed up with being told over and over again that the council has spent over £20million in this town.
It was curious at yesterday’s face-off between the council’s planning director Patsy Dell and members of Haverhill’s business community, that she was largely unsurprised by the reception she received, which wavered between cynical and hostile.
She was almost apologetic about mentioning the dreaded £20million again. The problem is that Haverhill people in general, and the business community in particular, are awkwardly precise in wanting to know exactly what has been gained from this largesse.
Leaving aside disagreements over the provision of executive housing, or the location of proposed growth, the most pertinent attacks came over the town centre.
It is probably unfair to focus on the reaction of a group of town businessmen which did not include – as far as I know – representatives of independent High Street shopkeepers. I assume it didn’t because there would have been a point where we could not have missed them being peeled off the ceiling.
But the impasse cannot be ignored. While High Street traders continually argue that allowing in competitive shops will put them out of business, many Haverhill residents will not use the town centre until there are competitive shops there.
Those with the greater spending power are bound to be more mobile, and will shop out of town where they can buy all the items they cannot get in Haverhill - except, possibly, a narrow range in one of the supermarkets.
Those of us who try manfully to use Haverhill town centre for our shopping to support local businesses find both of these attitudes infuriating. Our strong independents have seen off enough national interlopers in the past to give them confidence for the future, one would have thought. And how can we ever persuade the shops we want to come here if they can see higher earners tend not to use the town centre?
And these little battles are not without further detriment to us local shoppers. The theory that competition and choice are always beneficial does not hold up.
Here’s an example – I use it just because it is in my experience, and I emphasise that I quite understand how it has happened and it is certainly no fault of anyone involved.
Regular readers of this column may remember I am one of those eternally optimistic souls who likes to holiday under canvas in the north of England. Last year’s holiday hurricane adventure week finally caused a little bit of damage to my trusty tent.
No matter, I thought, I’ll pop into Morleys when I get home and sort something out. However, I discovered that they no longer cater for the camping market. When Milletts came to Haverhill, Morleys, quite reasonably, had to slightly re-position themselves in the market, and dropped that area of their business.
Of course, Milletts didn’t last, so now there is nowhere in the High Street where you can buy camping accessories.
It seems, in Haverhill, there is only room for one outlet in each market – or none. In the free market philosophy this is complete nonsense. But it seems to be the case. Why?
Perhaps, rather than wasting a lot of time trying to solve that mystery, we should perhaps ask a different question – how can we change that?
The only answer is investment. In time, if shopping choice was available in Haverhill town centre, people would start to use it. The trouble is, during that time the shops would have failed and been forced to close down.
So something has to start the ball rolling, and we can be pretty sure, however much the idea may be touted, that it isn’t going to be Tesco. Ask them how well they are doing.
As was so succinctly put to Patsy Dell yesterday by a frustrated Haverhill businesswoman and lifetime resident: “Nice paving and lampposts are no good if you can’t buy what you want.”
The council’s response is what it has always been. Ms Dell expressed it thus: “We can’t drag stores here.”
I don’t know if everyone was thinking the same as me, because no one actually said it. “No, but you can drag a cinema here at a cost of £10million, onto a site which had never been earmarked for such a purpose.” If they really want to, they can do almost anything.