Home Page Research park shows how much Haverhill needs the risk-takers 09/11/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

A couple of years ago, when the idea of Haverhill Research Park was first put forward, it seemed about as likely that it would ever happen as that a British cyclist would win the Tour de France.


After all, to many people, the words did not fit in the same sentence. That was because of their ignorance, of course, but nevertheless, it was a leap of faith, to say the least.


Even St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which is basking in the glow of its own achievement in helping the scheme forward, was lukewarm to begin with, and dead against mixing housing with the business uses.


But, to their credit, they showed that a council can be persuaded of the need to adapt its planning policies to the needs of the moment, something the council had signally failed to do on many other previous occasions in Haverhill, and then done with astonishing bravura when it came to the cinema complex.


Now work is charging ahead out at Hanchet End (that is not a typo – it is Hanchet End with one ‘t’, as you can discover from any decent map)  and the scheme is keeping, so far, to the amazingly ambitious schedule put forward by Carisbrooke a year ago. In the current economic climate that is something of a triumph in itself.


The civil engineering and service provision will be completed by the end of April, then Taylor Wimpey will build the 150 houses and Marstons will build the hotel and restaurant, to be completed before Christmas next year.


Suddenly a site which has been a sort of hopeful blank in the town’s development ever since I can remember, is coming alive. I suppose it proves that, if you wait long enough, anything is possible.


That triangle of land was earmarked in the 1970 Gibberd Masterplan for Haverhill as a ‘prestige site’, the idea being that something really special would be built there as an impressive gateway to Haverhill from the west, which is the most likely direction from which people would approach the town for the first time.


Since then it has been a battleground, in more ways than one. It was in several ownerships, which meant it was very unlikely anything would be achieved there. You only have to look at the way the southern rear access road to the town centre was never built, largely because of the number of different ownerships of the required land.


It was earmarked as a ‘business park’ but then St Edmundsbury decided it was a hopeless case and deleted it from the Draft Local Plan. Luckily, Haverhill Enterprise 2000 were on the ball and jumped up and down loudly enough to get it re-instated.


Since then it has sat in a series of local plans, waiting for someone to take it up. That someone came along in the form of Carisbrooke’s director Nic Rumsey, who was already involved in Haverhill as a developer of the business park at the other end of the bypass, and who managed to do a deal with the various landowners.


But it was, and still is, to some degree, a gamble, because nobody really knows what the market is going to be for getting takers on the sites within the research park, once it is all set up.


Haverhill has always needed someone who was prepared to take a chance, a sensible risk, because it is no developers’ idea of a safe bet. Its track record is, if anything, rather discouraging. It has, or had until recently, a poor reputation. It isn’t very big, and its transport links are limited.


There have been a lot of people happy to talk up the town over the last 20 years, but talk was just about all there was a lot of the time. The businesses within the town have turned out to be those with the least confidence in it.


Where has all the recent investment come from – Tesco, HPG, Genzyme, Carisbrooke and now the Government, all outsiders. Look at the long-established businesses centred in the town and you won’t find many of them prepared to spend much on expansion.


Some have taken the opportunities which arose to relocate to a new site, but that’s about it. Mostly, it’s still lines on a map, possibilities and kite-flying. Thatt isn’t surprising because the sorts of business on which Haverhill was built – manufacturing – have had a very hard road in recent years and have spent their efforts on outsourcing their jobs around the globe.


And what about us? I hear St Edmundsbury Council cry in that familiar refrain ‘£21million’. Well, as I have pointed out over and over again, much of that was of their own choosing. It was good to have it, but it was also partly a sort of justification (or expiation) for the huge amounts of money they were spending in Bury.


You can’t help feeling that without a few risk-takers, even now, Haverhill is going to struggle, and Carisbrooke have been pre-eminent in showing us the way, and the future.

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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