Home Page The Inspector is coming - and it won't be an Ealing comedy 13/12/13

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Hart of the Matter

So now we know the planning inspector appointed by the Government will come to Haverhill for part of his public inquiry into the Vision 2031 document.


The document is produced by St Edmundsbury Borough Council for the whole of the borough, so much of the inquiry will be held in Bury, but three days on Haverhill issues will take place here.


And before you imagine something out of an Ealing comedy with the Inspector played by Eric Barker or Richard Wattis, it is worth remembering that things have moved on a bit since the 1950s.


Mr Roger Clews is the man the Secretary of State has appointed to inspect St Edmundsbury’s plan for development over the next 20 years, and that in itself is quite an illuminating fact.


Mr Clews, it appears, is fresh from throwing much of Worcestershire into consternation by chucking their plan back at three district councils – Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon - and telling them it must make provision for a lot more housing.


He was dissatisfied with 23,000 or so new homes in the South Worcestershire Development Plan period, and wants lots more, maybe another 9,000. A council leader described it as one civil servant riding roughshod over 100 councillors.


It will be interesting to see what Mr Clews makes of St Edmundsbury’s effort which, as far as one can make out, has the central objective of protecting what the borough council thinks of as the area’s heritage, ie Bury St Edmunds and the pretty villages.


It was clear when they launched their final version that this theme was uppermost in their minds – balancing the least amount of development they could get away with against any damage to their chocolate-box environment.


You might think the simplest solution to that would be to pile all the new development down in out-of-the-way little Haverhill, as they clearly think of it, but that, of course, would also carry a serious risk that Haverhill might therefore become a lot more important and soon not be out of the way anymore.


The fact that that might already be happening does not appear to have entered their consciousness, judging from Vision 2031. Their vision for Haverhill is of a town which will take as much housing as they can put here without in any way altering the balance of power in West Suffolk and without therefore having to provide for any major infrastructure improvement.


One can’t help feeling that Mr Clews may well look to the left a bit on his map, perceive a great big blob called Cambridge and wonder why that seems almost to have been airbrushed from the document he is required to inspect.


One might also imagine he is under a fair bit of pressure from above, where waves have already been made to the effect that East Anglia is going to have to take a lot more housing than presently contemplated.


So St Edmundsbury may well be quite a good little test case – a rural area, run by generally rural representatives for the benefit of rural residents and its comfortable market town, but actually right next to one of the most powerful economic drivers in Britain.


Mr Clews may get some indication of the way the cards are stacked around here when he compares the venues in which he will have to hold his inquiry. In Bury he will be in the impressive new Apex, in Haverhill he will be in Days Inn one day and the leisure centre the next, neither of which is ideally suited for the sort of activity it will be required to host.


I imagine where will be quite a few members of the public who want to attend this major event in Haverhill’s life, so Days Inn may be a bit cramped. One wonders how effective the PA systems in either building may be. As soon as you imagine the sound of squash or the kids play area impinging on proceedings we are back in Ealing comedy territory.


How sad that we no longer have the old council chamber in the Lower Downs Slade offices, which had always hosted such big events in the past, with its public gallery, its grand furniture and imposing chairman’s dais.


At least Mr Clews will get to hear the views of Haverhill as put together by the town council, if a little belatedly. I imagine that by the end of three days he may be rather familiar with the voice of Haverhill’s town clerk Will Austin, who is down to speak on most items.


Residents, businesses, landowners and the town council are all giving evidence on various issues which have already been notified, and the Inspector will sweep up behind them by examining whatever hasn’t been touched upon, in his efforts to establish whether the plan is ‘sound’.


Of course, it may turn out that St Edmundsbury’s planners have got it all correct, but that almost never happens at a public inquiry. The crucial item will be whether the Inspector thinks the area could take more development than the plan allows for.


If he does and he chucks it back to the council, there will have to be more pressure on Haverhill as the most likely place. After all, a capacity study a decade or so ago found that it could take a population increase up to 40,000, which would make it bigger than Bury, and that pressed a few panic buttons.


He might also be curious that St Edmundsbury planners did not even know what the population of Haverhill was when they put this plan together. When the census results came out they found they were more than ten per cent out. Did they change the plan? Not a bit of it, they just altered the numbers.

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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