Hart of the Matter
It is a tribute to the work of councillors and officers of St Edmundsbury Borough Council in recent years that Haverhill people will probably be rather relieved to hear that the council is to continue into the future and not be superseded by a giant all-Suffolk authority.
Twenty years ago the banners would have been out at the potential demise of St Edmundsbury, whoever was going to take its place.
The Government has spent two or three years and a lot of money on a pointless investigation into how local services in Suffolk might be better delivered through another re-organisation.
None of the options were particularly attractive to us in a town which has always suffered by being on the periphery of its providers’ area in almost every service, at least since the last council re-organisation in 1974.
Our highways, fire, police, libraries, etc are all run from Ipswich, our town planning and justice system from Bury St Edmunds, our ambulance service from Chelmsford, our water from (I think) Huntingdon, our healthcare from goodness knows where because they keep changing it, and so on.
But at least the survival of St Edmundsbury means that many major decisions will be taken reasonably locally and by people who have at least been to Haverhill.
In many ways the current administration at St Edmundsbury does genuinely appear to have the best interests of Haverhill at heart, although that doesn’t stop it making mistakes as, I suppose, other authorities do.
Part of the trouble usually stems from listening to the wrong advice, or not listening to any advice at all. If you don’t live in a town and have to pick up its dynamics second or third hand you can often get a very erroneous impression.
But equally, Haverhill residents should share some of the blame for things which have gone wrong in the past, because we are not very good at giving an opinion on anything until it is in place, when all we can do is criticise it (or praise it – we do that sometimes).
It seems to me that St Edmundsbury – may be in common with local authorities generally – has never managed to crack the conundrum of consultation.
Haverhill, to judge by the resultant literature available, has been consulted to within an inch of its life, on almost every facet of life you can imagine.
Unfortunately, none of these consultations has actually involved that many people. It is a common problem. People who provide consultation services externally, and those who create consultation exercises within councils, are generally satisfied with what most of us would think of as a very poor response rate.
Consequently, consultation results can often contradict one another. If you carry out an exercise to find out what a town wants you may be told its greatest wish is a cinema, or an ice-rink, or a night club, or a concert hall, or a department store, depending on who you talk to. If you carry out five consultations, you may get all five different answers.
In the end, a council will have to make a decision and run with it. Recently, St Edmundsbury has done rather well at that, because the cinema initiative has proved popular and successful so far, and Tesco seems to have fitted in without any of the traffic nightmares which were initially predicted.
The arts centre’s cinema provision seems to be surviving so far. It’s probably too early to teel about the effect of Tesco, but the Co-op is still there, Sainsbury’s and Aldi are both bigger, Iceland has arrived and I am told footfall and trade in Queen Street are holding up and may be increasing a little.
One element which is strongly on St Edmundsbury’s side is that Haverhill is a town where, on the whole, people would rather you did something than that you did nothing.
People may moan about it, but they will acknowledge you have tried, whereas in the old days of the 1980s, St Edmundsbury’s approach was to do as little as possible and just provide another weights room at the sports centre, as being what it thought everyone in Haverhill would be wanting.
Everyone who comes into Haverhill nowadays after a period of absence is amazed at the visible changes for the better. Borough and county councillors from afar who find themselves unwillingly dragged here for a meeting always seem very pleasantly surprised at what they find.
Let us hope this does not engender a period of laurel-resting, and a self-satisfied feeling of having answered all Haverhill’s concerns so that attention can now be focused on Bury or the rural areas.
I don’t think it will, because there seem to be enough representatives from outside the town, as well as within it, who are taking some pride in what has been achieved, and have found it a rewarding endeavour, and worth continuing.