Home Page Promote an honest vision for the town centre, not just political spin 20/06/14

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

They say you should be careful what you wish for, and anyone who takes an interest in the promotion of Haverhill and the democratic process by which it should be achieved would have felt the truth of that proverb yesterday.


We had, I am delighted to report, a full and interesting agenda at a Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP) meeting. The reason that is so pleasing is that for the past couple of years HAWP had been slowly declining until it was barely doing anything at all.


As the main forum within St Edmundsbury Borough Council for the consideration of purely Haverhill issues, that was very disappointing and made one begin to wonder what HAWP was actually for. Meetings were being cancelled due to lack of business when there were several burning issues around which needed to be addressed.


That state of affairs was no doubt perfectly acceptable to the borough because Haverhill can be a troublesome child, always demanding something which costs money.


From a Haverhill point of view, however, it was a poor old show, crowned by HAWP’s failure to make any useful comment or protest about the Vision 2031 draft planning document.


That failure seems to have kicked our representatives into life a bit, and they began to realise that they should be controlling their own agenda and putting stuff on it to try to achieve, even if borough officers were not creating anything.


They have now put into place a system whereby members suggest issues they should be getting reports or updates about from borough or county council officers. These are then put on the agenda for the next meeting.


The officers were a bit slow on the uptake and angered members yesterday because they thought the list put together last time, and placed on this agenda, was actually a list for the next meeting, so they didn’t bring any information along with them.


Nevertheless, it was a move in the right direction, and will no doubt sort itself out in time. But the agenda was full enough anyway, covering a research park update from Carisbrooke, the town centre masterplan process, and the cash laid aside for improving High Street. Plenty of explosive stuff there, and so it proved.


But the trouble with bringing all these issues out in the open is that they become just that – public, because HAWP’s meetings are now open to the Press and public.


You might think that is a very good thing, and I would agree with you, but it comes at a price. The way the Borough of St Edmundsbury is constituted, HAWP is always likely to be a place for moaning and whingeing about things which have not been done for Haverhill.


So it could easily become a place where our councillors spend all their time talking about the town’s failings and shortcomings, talk which becomes public and could be seen as detrimental to Haverhill’s image further afield.


That issue was touched on yesterday. Incensed councillors, hearing about further delay in the masterplan and in any improvements to the High Street, tended to brand the town centre ‘a mess’. That drew a response from a councillor who does not live in Haverhill to the effect that they should be talking the town up and not focusing on negative things.


In a way you can see what she meant, but it really would put the tin lid on everyone’s frustration at the lack of progress in the town centre if meetings like this did nothing but say how wonderful it was and how people should come there to support it.


That is not representing the views of either the people who live here or the people who use the town. Even the most ardent supporter of Haverhill, who cares deeply about the town and is committed to its welfare, would struggle to defend its retail offer as competitive with similar-sized towns.


We have a lot of things going for us in Haverhill – very low crime rate, easy, cheap parking, a pleasant environment, quality education, reasonable property prices, dynamic companies employing skilled workforces and a very bright future as a business economy – but to say that Haverhill is a world-beating shopping centre is to insult the intelligence of potential customers.


We have to admit that it isn’t ideal, but at the same time we need to be putting forward a strong and exciting vision of what it is going to be and how that is going to be achieved. This is something which St Edmundsbury has signally failed to do for the last 20 years and more.


There was a first-class example right in front of members of HAWP yesterday as to how to promote something you are creating. Nic Rumsey of Carisbrooke detailed their plans for The Epicentre at Haverhill Research Park, a stunning architectural statement, judging by the plans.


But they aren’t just going to build it and hope companies come at some time in the future. They already have a ‘virtual’ Epicentre up and running which you can buy into now.


The long-awaited town centre masterplan needs to be something similar that people from Haverhill and all around can buy into at the vision stage.


The last masterplan in 2005 was a tentative document with just a couple of interesting planning innovations and no idea at all of how to achieve it. To claim, as planners did yesterday, that it brought in Tesco and the cinema is just smoke and mirrors. Tesco were already coming, and the cinema ripped up the masterplan.


This time it has got to be a lot, lot better, and then we can promote the town centre in the knowledge that it is not just laughable empty words, but a real vision which will be fulfilled because it has a momentum of its own.

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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