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Hart of the Matter

So the bogeyman rides into town in March to give everyone a chance to take pot shots at him.


In case you are unaware what that’s about, Cllr Guy McGregor, the Suffolk County Council transport supremo who decided we shouldn’t bother about pedestrianising High Street any more at the moment is bravely coming here to answer his critics.


It is an amazing chance for a bit of local democracy – depending on how receptive the man turns out to be. Many will remember the ludicrous spectacle of the NHS Suffolk chappie twice being roasted by the public because he was either hopelessly ill-prepared or a sacrificial victim with a bullet-proof vest.


No one knows whether anyone at NHS Suffolk was in the least bit bothered about their hapless representative – or even whether he went back and reported: "Well, that all went rather well, really.”


The difference this time is that, whereas he was just a paid officer who has to take the knocks along with the cash - or he could be sacked if necessary - Cllr McGregor is elected and therefore to some degree accountable.


Of course, we didn’t elect him – residents of Eye and Hoxne did that and I don’t suppose they care much about Haverhill High Street.


But he represents the ruling Conservative group on Suffolk County Council. In a way it’s a pity he couldn’t bring the council leader, Cllr Mark Bee, with him to monitor how well he does in that regard.


Cllr Bee, at least, must care a bit about the re-election of some of his troops, even if there are only a handful here – three in Haverhill and perhaps another two or three rural ones close enough to be aware of the issue. – despite his massive majority.


Things don’t look too promising for the Tories and Lib-Dems at the next county council elections as they are likely to get blamed for the national misery.


However, all that being said, we must not assume that this is going to be a one-sided contest. No one really knows what the public in and around Haverhill thinks about a traffic ban in the high street. Surveys can tell you a bit, but they are all rather haphazard.


If this visit to the Safer Neighbourhood Team public meeting in March was to bring people out of the woodwork on both sides, we might get a clearer idea – and certainly Cllr McGregor will.


One thing is certain, there won’t be another chance for the pro lobby. If he can get away from this meeting with a fig leaf of credibility for his current stance, you can be sure he will, and that will be that. All future protests will be referred back to this public meeting.


If the demand for a traffic ban and closure of the street by barriers is so great that he has to take it on board, it may mean we get back on the old merry-go-round again, with new plans coming forward from the highways engineers. It all gives work for the working man to do.


But it won’t mean the traders and other objectors have lost. All sorts of other stumbling blocks could be brought out of the conjurer’s hat that no one had ever thought of before. We know that from the past track record of thinking certain things were all set to happen and finding suddenly that they can’t.


The objectors know they have a fight on their hands, but they also know that if they can show up in strength on this one occasion it will put the matter to bed for good and all – unless there is a change of political leadership in Ipswich, which is difficult, but not impossible, to conceive.


For the pro lobby, the cards are stacked against them unless they mount a determined and continuing pressure campaign. It’s like one of those elections in the Third World (or the Church of England) where you have to get a two-thirds majority, only this time, even that probably won’t do – more like three-quarters or seven-eighths.


They have to carry the day overwhelmingly in March and then keep up that level of pressure through the ensuing shenanigans over planning and rights of way regulations and a planning inquiry. It’s a tough call.


But they have some cards to play. The police view has never been properly taken into account so far. Every meeting has managed to keep the police and the county council apart. You get one or the other, but not both.


The election of the new police and crime commissioner to replace Suffolk Police Authority may be useful here. The police authority included quite a few county councillors and was only an arm’s length extension of the council, which used to run the police.


Now the police are entirely independent. It would be good to get the new commissioner, Tim Passmore, to come along to the meeting and see whether the views of his officers count for anything with the council. If not, he might like to say a word or two to Cllr Bee.


After all, as I understand it, that is his job and what he was elected to do. Apart from hiring and firing the chief constable and setting the budgets, canvassers and journalists alike at the recent election were a bit stumped to put across how else the commissioner would justify his or her salary.


A traffic ban is, in the end, not just a bureaucratic county council issue. It affects the whole community, and the whole community should have a say.

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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