Home Page Political embarrassment makes for entertaining viewing 20/07/12

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Hart of the Matter

Council meetings are strangely unpredictable things and council meetings in or about Haverhill are more unpredictable than most.


You would never have believed a year ago that St Edmundsbury Borough Councilís Haverhill Area Working Party could have abandoned the move towards pedestrianisation which seemed to have both political will and public opinion behind it.


The momentum appeared unstoppable in the wake of public pronouncements from councillors wanting it pushed through straightaway and from senior police officers saying barriers were the only solution to enforcing traffic and parking regulations in the town centre.


And yet, last week, we saw the same representatives agreeing instead to a 20mph zone. They have covered their political embarrassment with the figleaf of an Ďaspirationí to keep the idea of pedestrianisation alive. But anyone can see that in the current climate it is on no more than a life support machine and will not recover without some miraculous organic changes.


If it were not so sad it would have been very amusing to watch so many people sitting around a table and trying to say two mutually exclusive things at the same time. Basically, they dared not throw out the alternative offered by the county council engineers as the best solution, but they also wanted to achieve pedestrianisation at the same time.


The reluctance with which they finally had their fingers prised from the rope by a form of words which gives them the illusion of hanging on to the Ďaspirationí, was something to behold.


It was a very curious Ė and very long Ė meeting. First of all, there was the diversion of the town councilís survey, visibly present in the form of an impressive pile of papers reminiscent of a cache of Victorian banknotes.


For those who donít know, and didnít take part, Haverhill Town Council spent a lot of effort in trying to establish whether the people of Haverhill want pedestrianisation or not. For years it had been assumed that they did, but the results of the county councilís consultation exercise earlier in the year had indicated the opposite.


So town councillors, feeling this had not been representative, decided to carry out their own consultation in the town centre on market days. They got around 750 responses, with a 70-30 per cent majority in favour.


Cllr Roger Andre said this was enough and urged it be put to the working party, and he wrote a letter to go with it. Sadly for him, although he attended the working party meeting as a member of the public, he wasnít allowed to speak, and the parts of his letter which related to the survey were also ruled inadmissible by the working party chairman Cllr Karen Richardson.


Town clerk Will Austin, who is a member of the working party by invitation, was able to speak on the issue, but had to steer clear of the survey, and only read out those parts of Cllr Andreís letter which did not relate to it.


This in itself was almost worthy of an Alan Ayckbourn play, because the audience all knew something the actors were not able to acknowledge. Never mind, procedure must be followed at all times.


But the most entertaining bit was that Mr Austin outlined the fundamental issues at stake with commendable clarity, only for the county council engineers and other working party members to obfuscate as hard as they could for another hour or more.


By the time the same fundamental issues did resurface, Mr Austin had had to leave, so he never had the chance to say: "I said this an hour ago.Ē


"And what are these fundamental issues?Ē I hear those of you still awake murmur. Well, they are pretty simple really.

1 What is the vision for Haverhill town centre?

2 Who is responsible for delivering it?

3 Does this represent the end of pedestrianisation?

4 If it is, how do we explain that to the majority of people who want it?

5 If it isnít, how would a new scheme for it come forward in the future?


Of these, only three were addressed at all, and about one-and-a-half were actually answered. The answer to number two, given by the engineers was that it is Ďa complex relationshipí, referring to the fact that the county council designs works and creates traffic orders, while the borough council commissions them via the working party.


The real answer to number three appears to be Ďyesí, although not directly articulated by the officers, and definitely refuted by the councillors with their continuing Ďaspirationí.


The engineersí answer to number five was that circumstances would need to change dramatically.


I can answer number four, although no one else did, with another question. Whoever imagined that what the people of Haverhill want was ever going to be a consideration for Suffolk County Council in the long run?


To be fair to them, itís all about what a Government inspector would think at the inevitable planning inquiry about any attempt to close the street, and 70-30 is never going to be enough if all the businesses are against it, as appears to be the case. Business is king at present.


Which leaves us with number one, the most fundamental of all and, in the light of the recent mish-mash of schemes from Suffolk County Council and dither from our representatives, the answer is pretty clearly that there isnít one.

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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