Home Page Planning summit scores five out of ten from sceptical observer 11/02/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

If you have been waiting with bated breath for the continuation of last week’s cavalcade of ideas for Haverhill’s future success, you’ll have to wait another seven days, I’m afraid.


However, if you are a member of the wider Rhett Butlerite majority who, frankly, don’t give a damn, you will be even more disappointed to learn that lots of people got together last week to talk about the very same issues.


On fairly short notice, our MP Matthew Hancock, managed to pull together most of the main players involved in devising the town’s future, into one room – which goes to show the power of MPs, if nothing else.


It was worth being there just to hear the council leaders wriggle when the issues were teased out and Mr Hancock asked them what they were going to do to address them. "So, what are you going to do about it?” became his refrain.


It turned out, of course, that what they were going to do was go away and do their very best to make sure Haverhill’s current success story - which we had heard a good bit about during an introductory piece from St Edmundsbury about all the money they have spent on the town –continued.


Exactly how they would do this was less clear. Indeed, to the leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, the whole idea of Haverhill being a success story seemed to be quite new. He was still trying to get his head around what he had seen on a recent visit to the town, when he had discovered it was, well, almost quite good.


It was encouraging to hear that he had absorbed such a salient fact about the fourth largest town in his county.


But Richard Herbert, speaking on behalf of local business, struck the most realistic note when he said we don’t want to keep hearing about what has been done, but to turn our attention to what will be done.


I did rather begin to hope this would be the last time we were told that St Edmundsbury has recently spent £20million on improvements in Haverhill, but I very much doubt it.


The meeting was partly inspired by the start of the consultations on the Haverhill Masterplan, part of the perennial local planning process, which is looking towards the year 2031.


Scarily, the first one of these I reported on was aiming at the then far distant date of 1981. That was partly determined by what had been in the last great Haverhill Masterplan to be formulated, that of 1970, put together by eminent architect and town planner Sir Frederick Gibberd, the man responsible for Paddy’s Wigwam, as Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral is fondly known.


That fact already shows the distance in time we are talking about, because that building was an icon of the 1960s. I don’t know what the opposite of an icon is, but that is what the 1960s gave Haverhill, in the form of Queen’s Square, the immediate demolition of which Mr Herbert last week again sensibly called for.


Apparently we need a certain configuration of space to be available for major national retailers to occupy, and we currently don’t have it. I am not convinced they would want to be located at the bottom end of Queen Street, no matter how magnetic the new Tesco superstore may be.


Now, you may already be thinking this is a cynical view of what took place last Friday, in which case I would prefer the term sceptical.


It would be good if such meetings could become a regular event, with leading councillors called to account regarding what they had done in the interim, but I fear it is unlikely, and even if they were regular, leading players would doubtless find themselves too busy to attend. But a one-off summit was something.


The main aim of the meeting was for Mr Hancock to find out what people wanted for Haverhill, and thus what he should be fighting for. In that regard it scored about five out of ten by my reckoning, because very few ideas had time to be put forward and seriously debated.


But it was good that the reservations of Cambridge villages about A1307 improvements should be heard in Haverhill, and if Mr Hancock took away one really valuable impression, it should be that the nearby county boundaries are a serious handicap to the town.


Places like Linton, Balsham, the Bumpsteads and Yeldham are just as much part of the Haverhill hinterland as Kedington, Hundon and Clare, but there is no process within the current planning system that provides for these vital networks to be included, and as far as Suffolk or St Edmundsbury are concerned they might as well not exist.


The point was justifiably made by Esther Cornell from Linton, that people from these places have stopped using Haverhill over the past 30 years. Why?


To turn the question around, why would people want to come here? Which is the point I got to last week, and I promise that next week I really will pursue it....

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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