Hart of the Matter
So we have come to the end of another year – indeed, another decade, which always makes it seem more significant – but the most astonishing thing to me is that it is now ten years since the Millennium.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the world was panicking about bugs crashing computers, and irritated journalists were having to queue up like ordinary people to get into the Millennium Dome junket.
It has been a decade of disillusion in the wider world, with 9/11, the Iraq War, Afghanistan, etc. So it has been in Britain, too, where Blair’s brave new world of affluence has given way to financial disaster and MPs' expense fiddles.
True to type, Haverhill has been moving in the opposite direction from everyone else, with some real signs of hope springing up around us, albeit slowly.
If we consider where Haverhill was in 1999 we can see plenty of progress during the intervening years. It may not have seemed much like it at the time, but many areas of the town have improved along a fairly steady upward curve, at least until the crunch began to bite, the results of which have yet to work themselves out.
As always, the visible signs came with the completion of ideas and schemes which had been in the pipeline for years, so they were not exactly new to us.
Early in the decade there was a battle over whether or not parts of The Pightle and Lordscroft Lane should be included in the planning zone for the Station Yard site. It all seems rather trivial in the light of what now stands there, dominating the town centre like a cathedral to the modern religion of shopping.
A further growth in the number of roundabouts to be negotiated by anyone travelling through or round Haverhill was commemorated by a controversial piece of public art at the gateway to the town.
Some like it, some hate it, but for those passing through it is at least something to remember Haverhill by. More public art is on its way for the town centre.
In fact, the ‘noughties’ has been a good decade for the arts in general in Haverhill as our arts centre has developed into a successful focal point and the numbers attending many of the town’s free large-scale community events put on by the town council during the year continue to impress.
The town council itself has been rescued from a very rocky period in the early part of the decade, and now seems to be on a firmer footing once again.
St Edmundsbury Council has continued to take an interest in Haverhill, which is good to see, and very praiseworthy. However, it could scarcely have down otherwise.
The decade saw the borough council scoop up well over £30 million for the sale of its council houses to a newly-formed housing association called Havebury.
Together with its well-known level of reserves, this made St Edmundsbury one of the richest councils in the country. Looking to invest some of that in the improvement of Bury St Edmunds, the council embarked on its still uncompleted scheme for a grand venue within the new cattle market complex.
It was originally costed at over £9 million and is now considerably over budget, I believe. I freely admit I have yet to be persuaded of the wisdom of this – however, let us not knock it, because it has helped to justify some significant spending in Haverhill, on the grounds of treating the whole borough roughly equally.
Most obviously it helped to justify spending an equivalent amount to persuade Cineworld to run a five-screen cinema in the town, which brought with it some high-profile eateries.
This, along with Tesco and that unexpected fall-out from the credit crunch, the arrival of Iceland to take over the former Woolworths store, has all helped to make the town a busier and more up-to-date place.
Meanwhile the growth of new businesses in Haverhill has helped to ensure that the collapse of more established employers like Project, and the restructuring of others like Grampian/Vion, has not sent the town into a huge unemployment spiral, as happened in the early 1990s.
So the town has much to be proud of as it heads into the next decade, the name of which will probably emerge about halfway through.
New challenges will be added to the old unsolved ones of transport links, town centre development and prospects for young people. Among the new ones will be that of coping with another wave of new development which is inevitably on its way.
But everyone says at least one good thing about Haverhill – it is receptive to change. Combined with the confidence that it is a good place to live is the acceptance that things can always be improved. Not all towns by any means have this, perhaps because their age demographic is rather higher. Christmas often reinforces that message – having kids around keeps you young.
Have a happy and prosperous New Year.