Home Page Save these old cottages, but affordable housing has to be built 08/11/13

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

In one of those mini-triumphs for Haverhill which come along now and again, it seems that people power has managed to save the cottages at the top of the high street which Havebury planned to knock down as part of another social housing scheme.


Residents got involved and pushed Haverhill Town Council into objecting. In itself that would probably have had little effect, but they also did some research, got English Heritage’s view and enlisted the borough’s conservation department (such as it is) to help their cause.


Their argument was that the cottages are part of Haverhill’s history, being of an unusual construction, traditional to this area, and over 200 years old – possibly the oldest buildings left in the High Street apart from St Mary’s Church.


That had to be set against the fact that they were suffering from subsidence, in a poor state of repair necessitating a lot of money being spent on them, and part of a scheme which would deliver one of the current holy grails – cheap, quick housing.


There is a whole lot of controversy about what Havebury has been trying to do in cornering the property around the top of the high street, ever since they took over the old fire-damaged Bowes and Bowes carpet shop and turned it into their offices.


That in turn has highlighted the fairly cosy relationship which exists between Havebury and St Edmundsbury, the planning authority. That cosiness is understandable because of what Havebury is, but it makes people feel uneasy.


If St Edmundsbury had never sold its housing stock, had never created Havebury Housing Partnership as this non-profit-making charitable institution which is supposed to provide the greater amount of the borough’s housing needs as the council used to, then this would have been the council giving itself planning permission, which people have also always felt uneasy about.


In an ideal world planning authorities ought not to be able to own any land themselves, so they can be transparently impartial in their judgments, but how would that be financed? We can’t afford any more sections of local government and any more sets of representatives who have to be elected.


Havebury don’t like it, but to many people they are still the council, thinly disguised by wearing another hat. Council staff moved over to the new body when it was set up and doubtless many are still there, including the CEO, and its only human nature that they retain ties, however dispassionately they view any issue.


Apart from anything else they share the council’s objectives. Without the usual prime directive of the private sector, that of making money hand over fist, their aims must be fulfilling the public need for which they were created – housing.


There’s a lot of talk about how much their managers get paid but, although there must have been the usual and infuriating redundancy payout followed by immediate re-employment which surrounds every restructuring within local government of any kind (viz, the NHS at present), if they had still been employed by the council they would probably have been similarly remunerated, but directly out of our council tax.


Housing is a very serious issue in Britain at the moment, possibly more serious than it was in the aftermath of either the Depression or World War II, both of which sparked massive building programmes.


A large part of Haverhill came into being during the latter burst of construction in the 1950s and 60s. Since then no Government has achieved anything like that number of new houses being built each year, even though the current requirements have reached similar levels.


Everyone seems to be blaming everyone else for the fact that nothing is being done about this, but one must look to the planning authorities for at least part of the blame. People generally don’t want lots of new housing near to them, and councillors, fearful of their seats, seem to cave in much of the time.


Vision 2031 turned out to be mainly about protecting the residents of Bury St Edmunds and the borough’s pretty little villages from being encumbered by any nasty new development.


Haverhill, where the view on development is more ambivalent, was just given a great big lump on the northern side as a way of pacifying the Government demands for new housing. I’m beginning to wonder if it will be enough.


Planning inspectors looking at these new long-term planning documents may now be under instruction to be more rigorous in their demands for housing targets. If not now, they soon will be.


The irony is that, given the proper infrastructure to go with it, Haverhill is generally in favour of more housing, because it is seen as the pathway to better facilities, in particular transport and retail.


There was a growth capacity study carried out in the 1990s on Haverhill which revealed it could accommodate up to 40,000 - maybe even more. This set the alarm bells ringing in Bury (and in Ipswich), because it would see Haverhill eventually become the bigger town, possibly the new centre of the borough.


If – and it’s a big if – the transport links could be guaranteed, and the development be properly engineered to bring a wide demographic to the town, not just more of the same, many people would see that as a benefit.


How much of that would ever get through to a planning inspector is doubtful, but something has to be done – and quite soon. Both affordable and executive housing are in very great demand in Haverhill now. We should cheer progress in saving the high street cottages (of course, there may still be an appeal, so it’s not completed yet) but we should be mindful that new development still needs to be seen as A Good Thing and supported where possible.

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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