Home Page Optimism is all very well, but just how practicable is any of this? 23/06/15

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Like all the best epic stories, analysis of the draft Haverhill town centre masterplan document is a trilogy, and the third part follows the example of many such enterprises in having a title including the words ‘The Return Of’.

In this case it is Masterplan: The Return Of Optimism. However, unlike The Jedi or The King, it remains to be seen whether or not Optimism is A Good Thing.

On the face of it, the masterplan suggests some considerable changes which, over the next two decades, could transform Haverhill town centre into a very successful, vibrant and attractive asset to the town.

The only problem is that we have seen this before, and been disappointed when chunks of it just don’t happen. These sort of documents are all very well, but there is always the danger of raising false hopes, or even starting hares.

Haverhill has probably had more hares started about potential developments than any other town in the country, precisely because everyone is so eager to hope for something good to happen.

If we take the previous town centre masterplan, we can see several ideas which were put forward but which have not happened. The things within it which have come to fruition were already under way as plans when it was finalised. Such plans should only be included in documents like this with the very clear attendant information that they are already in the pipeline.

Otherwise, councils can claim that developments have occurred as a result of the masterplan whereas, in actuality, they would have happened anyway. When you take these out of the last masterplan you can see even more clearly that virtually nothing new included within it has been achieved at all within the decade since it was published.

Of course, a lot which was not included in it has happened, most obviously the cinema complex. All this means that there is nowadays an innate tendency of residents to take these documents with a pinch of salt.

What is in them may eventually come to fruition, but not in the short-term, or even the medium term. After all, the completion of the Meadowlands estate extension, nowadays called North-West Haverhill, and which is now included in the Vision 2031 document, still has a long way to go, and that was in the first Haverhill Masterplan, finalised in 1970.

In all probability it will be 50 years after that plan was published before the final development presaged within it actually materialises in bricks and mortar.

So before we all get too optimistic about the latest masterplan draft, we should perhaps look at the likelihood of any of it ever being any more than words and lines on a page, and at just how much of it is new as opposed to being already in the pipeline.

As far as likelihood is concerned, there are several areas which could be questioned. The police station, suggested as a site for redevelopment, is not open for such a transformation, we have been categorically assured.

Commercial companies are unlikely to be as open in their reaction, but I would make a little guess that if you went and asked Wisdom privately about their factory site and allotments, they would say much the same.

Then there is the proposed town square, which envisages the redevelopment of the old Co-op and Jubilee Walk car park. If the tales regarding the imminent arrival of another pound shop in the old Co-op store are true, it is hard to see how this will be achieved any time soon.

Then there is the Gurteens site. This is scarcely anything new, so should be one of those items carrying a clear sign that it is already in the pipeline, at least as far as the landowner’s intentions are concerned.

But there is an odd misalignment in this section as well, because it talks about either opening up the back of the churchyard altogether, or at least replacing the windows, and then redeveloping the green space as some sort of garden.

Well, the council has just re-landscaped that area, and there are some cracking pieces of artwork created by local schoolchildren, which have been made to fit the blocked-up windows, waiting to be put in place.

While it would not surprise me to find the whole thing being re-thought, it would be not only sad but another example of unjoined-up thinking, and waste of public money.

One assumes that is not going to be the case, but if that is so, why is it in the document at all?

The most disappointing thing, in some ways, concerns an area of the town centre which is absolutely ripe to be knocked down and redeveloped and which is not included in the document at all – Queen’s Square.

And if anyone says that is because it has already been established that the landlord is not willing for such a redevelopment to happen, then it is difficult to see why the other landowners have not been approached in a similar manner.

Queen’s Square has long been one of the town’s biggest eyesores, and it was a tragedy that the Tesco development could not have included a brand new walkway right through it, as a covered arcade of shops (perhaps continuing from my glass bridge).

Queen Street has been much neglected in the whole process and, if Swan Lane is to become two-way again, will suffer further, which is so sad because, as its conservation status shows, it is one of the most attractive parts of the town.

The more that a new town square is urged at the other end of the town centre and away from the current market square, the more peripheral Queen Street will become. Opportunities to integrate it with the town centre and revive its fortunes have come and gone over the past 20 years – and no doubt will continue to do so, even if any of the rest of this masterplan does eventually come into being.

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.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer