Hart of the Matter
The adoption this month of a masterplan for North-East Haverhill seems to have raised a few issues which one might have thought had been put to bed in the Vision 2031 document.
After all, that document accepted the size of the development. All the new plan puts forward is how the development should be carried forward. We have known for several years now that Haverhill is due to increase in size by roughly a quarter over the next 20 years.
Yet people have begun raising concerns about infrastructure – roads, schools, sewers and the like. It’s a bit late for all of that.
It is, of course, not too late to talk about the North-Western Bypass, but that is part of another development which is already going through, and has a time schedule attached to it.
Twenty-odd years ago, infrastructure for the Hanchet End development was under the microscope. A chunk of land was set aside for so-called ‘community facilities’. It could not be built on for residential purposes but had to be left clear until the market dictated that someone would come along and want to build a whole load of shops there, enough for the planners to get them to shell out for a community centre as well.
At that time I wondered what planet the planners were living on, and when I see the same sort of zoning still going on, I continue to despair. Surely we have learnt from Hanchet End that the market will never deliver any such thing. In fact, the final remaining bit of that old set-aside land is now going through planning permission to have houses built on it at last.
This tired old belief that the market will provide is like some outdated shamanism, long ago proved to be a complete myth, but in which people continue to believe against all the evidence, because they want to.
I cannot be alone in being fed up to the back teeth with hearing about what business needs and what business wants, all the time. Haverhill has been lauded as a town full of economic potential for at least the last 15 years.
Its small businesses have done very well, and saved it from some of the worst results of the decline of the big employers, particularly the Little Wratting meat factory, but also Gurteens, Wisdom, Axa, Project and a host of others either now defunct, or doing very well thank you by outsourcing to the Middle or Far East.
The town is a success story for small and medium businesses. Has this benefited the town centre and the local retail economy? Not a whit. Even if the town reached full employment and every single apprenticeship which was required or offered was filled up, the effect on the town centre would be invisible.
Yet we are now told that as far as infrastructure is concerned, what we need above all is the completely dualled A1307, because that is what business wants. Oh, by the way, it would be nice if, eventually, we also got a railway, but it’s much less important because it would only be for people, not so much use to business.
How does anyone think the town centre is ever going to improve unless it can generate more people using it? People are the commodity we need, not necessarily living here, although the expansion in population will probably help, but travelling here, noticing that Haverhill exists, other than as the place you can turn off to (but never do) at that rather attractive and innovative roundabout with a metal and laser sculpture on it.
Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we research what people want and need, and let business get on with doing very nicely thankyou?
This may seem a bit of a stretch in a world which, at the top, is entirely governed by the wishes and needs of big businesses and those who manage them. If you don’t believe that, just cast your mind back over the past eight years and see if you can ever remember seeing a banker in handcuffs.
I can’t help drawing a parallel with that delightful cycle race the Tour of Britain last week – watching which, and comparing it with the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta in Spain, always reinforces to me that Britain is the most beautiful country in the world.
If you don’t follow cycling, the context was that the race organisers were clamping down on all sorts of little wrinkles the riders get up to – slipstreaming cars for too long when trying to catch up after a puncture or a crash, or holding on too long when taking a bottle of drink from a support car.
These are little things that don’t really amount to much in the long run, but can get you fined either financially, or in the adding of vital seconds to your time – and this time they did.
Having done that, it came to a day when over 40 riders did not complete the stage within the time limit, and therefore should have been disqualified from the race. The organisers did nothing, because, of course, they didn’t want a race which had been massively depleted and was therefore less of a spectacle.
Similarly, someone who fiddles their benefits goes to jail, while someone who loses millions of our money on a stock-market ‘horse’ gets a knighthood and a massive bonus, because London is the financial capital of the world and we don’t want anyone taking their shenanigans elsewhere.
But it’s unlikely anyone will ever make an effort to find out what Haverhill people really want and need. In fact, they know already, and it’s not what they want or need, so they put a smokescreen around it.
I notice this week, as Suffolk’s councils seek more devolution, that the leader of St Edmundsbury said: “I believe that we know better than people miles away what Suffolk needs.” But does it work the other way around, viz Haverhill and Suffolk?