Home Page There are other ways of improving the town's first impressions 23/11/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

If you follow the message boards on this site, you will know that one issue which has come in for a lot of debate recently is the state of Sturmer Arches.

The three-arch viaduct at the east end of Haverhill is one of the town’s defining landmarks, and every now and again people get fed up with it not looking very tidy. In fact, even though it is almost wintertime now and the leaves are mostly off the trees, it is difficult to make out the side arches.

If you look at photos of it from many years ago, you will often see it looking clean-cut, with very little vegetation around, but now the old railway walk is heavily overgrown, which makes it a good wildlife habitat.

Either side of the Arches there are a lot of trees, bushes and undergrowth on both halves of the embankment, so it might be a little incongruous to clear the viaduct area completely.

However, it could be tidied to advantage and maybe those responsible – who, I think, are still whatever company is running the railway network – might be persuaded to do something about it, or let someone else such as St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s parks team take a look at it.

But, whatever the details of how it could be made to look better, the main question which comes to my mind is why? Why, among all the many serious issues which affect Haverhill at the moment, should such an apparently cosmetic one have grabbed public attention?

The clue may be in the word ‘cosmetic’. People are concerned about what Haverhill looks like to the outsider, and that is a good thing.

Haverhill residents are often accused of not having enough civic pride, but that is not a claim which can be substantiated. So much of the frustration one meets among Haverhill residents is about why the town does not look as attractive as they would like it to look.

One businessman who aims to offer quality accommodation for people in the Haverhill area was telling me the other day that he cannot recommend his guests to visit Haverhill town centre.

This is (albeit only one person’s view) a damning indictment of our councils over the past 30 or so years. If anyone had the job of promoting the town to outside visitors, it had to be the local authorities – at least until the last few years.

It seems to me that no true audit has been done of exactly what impression Haverhill makes on someone who has never been here before and knows nothing about it.

Leaving aside all the mythical baggage about image, which we hope our visitor has never heard, what would they think about the environment they find?

I fear that if they arrive by public transport they will probably already be stressed. Annoyed to find there is no railway, and frustrated that there is only one real main road in, and one truly regular bus service in. This is the level of service you might expect to find in a town a quarter of the size.

If they arrive by car they may be pleasantly surprised at the low car park charges, but they may not be as impressed with the appearance of the car parks, and even less so with the appearance of the linkages from the car parks to the main street.

I could not agree more with the town council when they have urged that at least some of the £900,000 which it seems Suffolk County and St Edmundsbury Borough Councils are determined to spend on the town centre whatever, should be used to improve these areas.

Benches in High Street are all very well, but not much good if people have already been put off before they get that far.

If we had a railway station, efforts would be made to make the walkways from there to the town centre attractive. That happens in virtually all towns. But we don’t, so we should think of the car parks as railway stations.

Two have some merit – Lower Downs Slade which links tidily with Queen Street, and the former Cleales Yard which benefits from an excellent piece of landscaping and a fine view of Gurteens. However, even that is stuck with a lack of easy pedestrian access to anywhere and some ugly rear views of buildings.

So there is work for the local authorities to do. But there are now many new ways in which outsiders approach our town, in this technological age. Few people go anywhere now without first looking it up on line.

If you type ‘Haverhill’ into Google, you will, of course, first be greeted with this website – and what more could you want to persuade you of the quality of this community?

However, many approach via comparison or consumer websites, and that is where residents need to start taking a hand.

The other day I tried to find out what view of the town you gain from this perspective, so I imagined myself a first-time visitor and had a look at Tripadvisor and searched for local places to eat, which is what I might well do.

If you do this for Newmarket, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds or Saffron Walden, you get a nice mix of scores of town eateries and country pubs, with helpful reviews from regulars and visitors giving an idea of menu, ambience, price and service. They are discriminating, too, with four, or maybe four-and-a-half stars out of five the maximum you’ll find.

When you key in Haverhill, the first two (of just 13) you get are Costa Coffee and Chippys van, both with five stars. I don’t disagree that both a very good at what they do, but they are not five-star restaurants. Wetherspoons is at number four. This is not entirely helpful to anyone looking for somewhere special to eat, because they could probably find them on their own if they are that desperate.

So get on there, people, and start improving the appearance of Haverhill to the outside world in other ways, as well as giving the viaduct a make-over.

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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