Home Page The front line may have moved but the war goes on 07/09/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

When there is trouble brewing in some corner of the world, we usually first get to hear about it through a war of words and it may be that Haverhill is no exception.


The BBC News apprises us of the fact that someone – an opposition leader, a neighbouring potentate or a United Nations envoy – has said something or other which has caused the situation to escalate and tension to increase.


On Tuesday night we had a town councillor describing motorists who park illegally in Haverhill High Street as ‘a very selfish minority’ and suggesting a company was brought in to tow their vehicles away, only to be redeemed at great expense.


This is fighting talk, to say the least, in a ‘guerilla’ campaign which has rumbled on for more years than I care to remember and which one might have assumed was petering out in the face of impossible odds. Not a bit of it – the fight goes on, apparently.


The ‘enemy’ are shadowy and rarely put their heads above the parapet to be shot at. They are those people who defy a wish for pedestrianisation which is, we are told, widespread. They are not just the motorists who drive through the street when they are not supposed to and park on pavements or double yellow lines.


They are also the traders and business people who signed a petition against the proposed traffic ban and they are now, by implication, the Haverhill Area Working Party, which has rolled over in the face of the obstacles to the scheme which, we are told, are currently pretty insurmountable.


Thus at Tuesday’s town council meeting - where, incidentally, there was a unanimous vote in favour of pedestrianisation – we heard of other ways in which the ‘enemy’ could be foiled or circumvented.


Towaway or privately operated barriers would deal with the motorists. The town clerk could ‘re-survey’ the businesses and find out if they really meant it when they signed the petition. Most revolutionary of all, a ‘smaller group’ could be brought together to oversee the project in place of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Haverhill Area Working Party, a group which would know the High Street issue more directly and, by implication, be in favour of pedestrianisation.


Now you may say that it is not helpful, even in this light-hearted vein, to denominate anyone as an ‘enemy’. But make no mistake about it, this is a campaign in the military sense. It doesn’t appear to be political, because both sides are signed up to it as long as it doesn’t cost the town council any money.


In many ways I can understand it, because we have had at least 25 years – I would say nearer 50 – of pussy-footing around this issue, followed by last year’s attempt at an overnight coup to force it through by bulldozing the opposition.


However, in historical terms it is all rather redolent of the old Soviet bloc of the Cold War days. The initial attempt to force pedestrianisation through willy-nilly was, if you like, the invasion of Hungary tactic.


Since then we have had the iron fist in the velvet glove in the form of the survey. We had the survey which showed hardly anyone wanted a traffic ban, which stopped the scheme in its tracks. The response was that this was too small a sample, so a much bigger one was taken which showed a sizeable but not overwhelming majority in favour.


We had the survey by the businesses which resulted in the petition signed by virtually all of them against it. Now we could have a new survey of the businesses to see if the first one was right. This is the Soviet tactic of asking you the same question over and over again until you give the right answer and describing that as the will of the people.


Then if that doesn’t work, we have the political putsch idea of getting a new politburo together which will see things in a different light – ie our way. I rather think the old politburo might have a thing or two to say about that.


All this, as I expect you have already perceived, is the smoke and mirrors of politics – not party politics, but bureaucratic politics – trying, probably with the best will in the world, to do the best thing for everyone and not use up any resources.


And maybe, with me, you would also like to shout out very loudly for all the parties to hear that this is IMPOSSIBLE.


There are two diametrically opposed solutions to all this and anything else in the middle is a compromise which will suffer the fate of Neville Chamberlain and his bit of paper.


Solution one is to do nothing and muddle on with the traffic calming, 20mph zone etc, which is currently on the table.


Solution two is to engineer proper access for everyone before attempting to close the street. As I have repeatedly said and written, that is a very expensive option, because it would need to create the complete southern rear service road which was envisaged when we first began talking about this in the 1960s.


There was an irony on Tuesday that the councillor who chaired St Edmundsbury’s first efforts to grapple with the issue 25 years ago, Mary Martin, had just been co-opted back onto the town council at the beginning of the meeting to be faced with exactly the same issue in the first item discussed.


She is not alone in being part of this eternal merry-go-round. A journalist who was working in Haverhill with me in the 1970s emailed me the other day from his high place on a national daily to say how amused he was to read the piece I wrote about the ‘demise’ of pedestrianisation at the last working party meeting, recalling how he had sat through such meetings over 40 years ago.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the editor of Le Figaro once said.

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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