Hart of the Matter
You may have seen recently the surprisingly dramatic call by the chairman of business group Haverhill Enterprise for the demolition of Queen’s Square and the north side of Queen Street.
The almost audible gasp from the assembled audience at Haverhill’s business exhibition when he said it, testified to the fact that this might be a sensitive subject.
Pretty much all the feedback I have heard since about the idea is that it is a very good one with regard to Queen’s Square. The north side of Queen Street is more controversial.
The suggestion that Queen’s Square should be redeveloped is not a new one. It has been in the wind for several years and was one of the reasons St Edmundsbury Council specifically included such an uninspiring collection of buildings in the Queen Street Conservation Area five years ago.
That may seem a paradox, but the thinking was that a scheme might come forward to redevelop and the council wanted to have very firm control over what was put in place of the current 1960s precinct. That makes sense.
But the issue has suddenly taken a leap up the list of Things To Talk About in Haverhill because visitors to the town cannot fail to see the back of Queen’s Square and the north side of Queen Street from the splendid new vantage point outside the new Tesco.
The argument for placing Tesco where it is has always been fraught. I doubt if it was the retail giant’s preferred site within the whole of Haverhill, because there does not seem to be room for a petrol station however you look at it, and they do like to have the two facilities together.
But St Edmundsbury, apart from owning the land, which made things easier, were keen that Tesco should bring a benefit. After all, many traders are afraid other shops in the town centre will be badly affected.
Not at all, said the council, Tesco will bring in new shoppers to Haverhill, who will then take the opportunity to explore the town centre, thereby increasing footfall for everyone.
A very attractive pedestrian highway has been constructed for them to do just that, but so far I have not seen that many people using it.
There was one Tesco plan in which the thoroughfare to the town centre would have been through Queen’s Square, but that got ditched. I would guess the new footway has not helped Queen’s Square because the few people who used to pass through it will now use the alternative path as being more direct.
The excellent works carried out in Queen Street have tried to give a pleasing frontage to the square, which is probably the best the council can do at present.
But it is surely obvious to any observer that, if the theory is right, Queen’s Square now faces the wrong way. It ought to face onto the new footway, thus attracting these passing pedestrians to explore it.
As for Queen Street, it may not be anything special architecturally in comparison with Saffron Walden, but it’s the best we’ve got. Rather than knock the north side down, it would make more sense to knock the police station down and redevelop that site to integrate with Queen Street, and hide the unsightly rears of shops which currently dominate the view.
Then, at last, there might be a visual incentive for people to clamber down the mountain from Tesco, cross the main road carefully and beetle off into town, putting to the back of their minds any visions of the trek back and the ascent of all those steps weighed down with items they may have bought, like Buddhist pilgrims carrying gifts.
The Tesco development is a very successful one, but it can only be a beginning. Indeed, informed opinion tells us it will only be a beginning. Other retailers apparently follow Tesco around like courtiers grasping a monarch’s coat-tails, so we may expect to see further changes in the near future.
But I hope no one thinks Haverhill’s town centre problems will now magically solve themselves. It is still a one-street town, albeit divided into two street names, and it is a heck of a long way from Tesco to that attractive little continental food shop at the bottom of Duddery Hill.
Along the way, our determined pedestrian would pass several dead areas of street frontage and off-street land, and a number of extremely ugly 1960s buildings which could be improved by almost any replacement. And he or she then has to trudge back the same way, unless sidetracked by an overwhelming desire for daytime cinema, an hour in the gym or an Italian meal - or all three.