Home Page Not everything fits together as neatly as a coalition 14/05/10

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Hart of the Matter

What a week! Although change is all around us and moving faster all the time, no one seems to have been ready for the political roller-coaster which ended in the almost fairytale optimism of the garden at 10 Downing Street.

Voters, we were told, wanted change. This election will be remembered for a whole lot of new innovations – televised leader debates, voters being shut out of polling stations, five days of stalemate and then the first coalition government since 1945. That’s quite enough change for one event.

Change is a seductive thing and when we see it in such a dramatic manifestation as this, it is easy for people to expect the same thing everywhere.

In fact, far from resisting change, many are so eager for it that they imagine it long before it happens and become disillusioned with the lack of actual progress they had expected.

I saw two reports last week from a recent council meeting which gave the impression that the go-ahead had been given to redevelop the Gurteens site in Haverhill.

The same week there were stories about the plan to redevelop the former Project site, now being called Hamlet Green, being submitted.

Now after the last week it is a very foolish person who predicts anything with certainty, but I would be very surprised if we see anything happen on either of those sites for some time – even perhaps, within the lifetime of the new coalition, if it survives.

Many people, having little interest in the minutiae of planning, may find that hard to understand. Plans come forward, or are approved, and nothing happens. Why?

The two schemes are at very different stages – in fact almost entirely opposite. The Gurteen site has a general go-ahead but no developer. The Project site has a developer but, as yet, no go-ahead, and, with the best will in the world, unlikely to get one.

It is incorrect to say that redevelopment of the Gurteen site has been given planning permission. The council has agreed the planning brief – laying down guidelines for the sort of development which would be allowed.

As far as I know, there is no one actually interested in taking the project on. Gurteens and their agents Bidwells are seeking a developer, but they know it is probably not going to be a simple or speedy quest in the current climate.

Over at Project – I just can’t bring myself to call it Hamlet Green, because that is actually some distance away, and also the name implies a sort ‘to be or not to be’ quality about the scheme – we have a developer champing at the bit.

Unfortunately for them, the site is not allocated for what they want to turn it into. There are no specific development guidelines, as there now are for the Gurteens site – after all, the Project site has already been flattened and had nothing on it worth preserving.

But planners have policies for every square inch of land within their district. The whole of England is covered by a mass of policies, under various names, and subject to continual change and updating from new government directives.

It is one of the great ironies that the landscape of planning policy-making changes far more dramatically and frequently than the real landscape which it governs.

In the case of the former Project site, St Edmundsbury Council’s local plan has earmarked it for warehousing and light industrial, but not retail or restaurants.

To get approval the developers will have to get the council to agree to go against one of its planning policies, and that is as rare as – well, as a coalition government, I suppose, so we had better never say never.

But it is very unlikely and, as so often, the end result is that Haverhill has two excellently fashioned pieces of jigsaw which, sadly, come from two completely different puzzles, so neither is much good on its own.

In the last analysis, this sort of thing is all going to be decided by that nebulous concept, ‘the market’, something which we have heard quite enough of over the last year or two, and will no doubt continue to hear far more of than we would like.

I think the classic came during the interminable analysis which filled in the wait for a government to be formed. Some important City chap was being interviewed and said that what the market wanted turned out to be different from what the electorate wanted.

Hang on – this is supposed to be a demo-cracy, roughly translated from its Greek root as people-power. The Greek for market, if I remember rightly, is agora, the same as for a field, which is where markets took place.

If we are moving to an agora-cracy, then I shall rapidly be getting agoraphobia.

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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