Home Page Public concern means its time for joined-up thinking on Hamlet Road 10/10/11

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Hart of the Matter

To be honest, Haverhill Town Council meetings nowadays are usually quite quiet affairs – a mixture of information and low-level debate, witnessed by few, if any, residents other than us pen-pushers.


Last week was a bit different because around 30 concerned residents turned up to have their say about the proposed Hamlet Croft development. You could tell this was unusual because there was nowhere to accommodate them in the small meeting room, and they had to wait outside until their item was reached, and then pile in and stand or sit on the floor.


Until recently there used to be two rows of chairs at the back of the room for the public, but this has now been reduced to one, thanks to some new health and safety concerns. I’m not sure of the maximum capacity of that room under health and safety rules but, when everyone was in, it must have been under threat.


This sort of incident happens once now and again and reminds everyone of the complex democratic system which governs our lives, not easy for those unfamiliar with it to understand.


For instance, the item for debate was not a planning application but something earlier in the process which we have been getting quite a lot of recently – a concept statement.


The representatives of developers Bloor Homes were making a presentation to councillors about what they would like to achieve at Hamlet Croft (the former Haverhill Rovers football ground, off Hamlet Road, which is now redundant land) – 91 new homes.


Developers do this sort of thing to test the water so they can iron out sticking points before they put in their planning applications, rather than find out about them afterwards, fail and have to adapt and put in a new application, which all costs money.


Furthermore, the town council is not the planning authority, so its relevance is rather peripheral. The plan, when it comes, will be submitted to St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who will then ask the town council for its comments and may, or may not, take any notice of them.


However, faced with this sort of major change to the environment near where they live, residents always feel, quite rightly, that they want to take it up with someone who is accountable to them. That is part of the democratic process, and that is what they did.


They told the councillors in no uncertain terms that they expected them to represent their views on the issue which, if not totally negative, are filled with concerns about flooding, traffic and access.


Their problem is to know which is the point in the democratic chain where they can most effectively apply pressure. Thirty people at a town council meeting sets the ball rolling, but 30 people at a borough council planning meeting might be more powerful. However, by then it might be too late – in fact it may be 20 years too late already.


Hamlet Croft was on a long lease from St Edmundsbury to the Rovers, having been a gift to the town and thus belonging to the old Haverhill Urban District Council, whose assets St Edmundsbury took over in 1974.


So people knew well in advance when it was going to become ‘available’. Older readers may remember at the height of  the 1980s property boom, a certain businessman bought the old Pye factory site in Colne Valley Road, not just for itself but because it was seen as the access to Hamlet Croft, which would one day be developed for houses. He caught a rather public cold over it.


Eventually, the Pye site was developed into Vanners Road and The Fennells, and it appears access to Hamlet Croft was ignored.


When brownfield sites came under pressure in the late 1990s, St Edmundsbury surveyed all the possible ones and Hamlet Croft was high on the list, but the decades of delay in putting together a plan for a new ground for the Rovers meant it has only come forward now.


Nevertheless, the principle of development has been established long, long ago, unless the owners decide they want to use it for something else, like public recreation or wildlife.


But the owners are St Edmundsbury, and we know that local authorities are so strapped for cash they are maximising every opportunity. So the question is confined to how it will be developed, and we run into the age-old conundrum that it is, of course, St Edmundsbury who will decide that, too.


The council has apparently agreed the sale to Bloor Homes, contingent on planning permission being granted, so is it likely to be refused? Even though the borough made that part of the town into a conservation area a few years ago.


There’s another conundrum. St Edmundsbury is no longer responsible for highway matters in Haverhill, so agreeing the access will be the responsibility of Suffolk County Council. I think most of us would feel letting anything up to 200 cars use an access onto Hamlet Road seems extreme, but we are led to believe that is the idea.


And congested Hamlet Road is, of course, a crucial part of the Haverhill north-south through route puzzle which the county council is currently wrestling with, and has potential brownfield sites at Atterton and Ellis and the Australian Arms.


Isn’t it time all these elements were considered together and not like so many disconnected pieces of separate jigsaws? Now there’s a job for One Haverhill.

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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