Home Page There is an explanation for why Haverhill's old chestnuts keep coming back 16/11/12

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Hart of the Matter

Haverhill has always been a good place for chestnuts – and I don’t mean the conkers down at Hamlet Green, but the old chestnuts, the apparently endless sagas about developments or changes that may or may not happen.


Thirty years ago the top of the list was the bypass, but that did eventually materialise, which is the only way that such chestnuts ever come to an end.


For some reason it seems to take an unreasonably long time to bring things to fruition in Haverhill so, although such passing chestnuts as Tesco, the new football ground and the former Project site come and go, some others, like Father Thames, go on for ever.


Yesterday, three of those were in the spotlight in one day, which must be something of a record, and in all three cases we gained some new perspective on an issue from which one might have thought the last drops of interest had long ago been squeezed out.


First up was the railway – or perhaps one should say the issue of a mass passenger transport system between Haverhill and Cambridge, because otherwise people think you are barmy and switch off.


As it happened there was a very good turnout of the town’s business community to hear about the efforts of the Cambridge to Colchester Rail Renewal Association. But the new perspective came, not from within the town, but from outside.


The chairman of Rail Futures East Anglia attended the meeting – Rail Futures is a national organisation dedicated to promoting railways. He lives in Cambridge, but admitted he had never been to Haverhill before because it was so difficult to get here.


It had taken him an hour to cover 15 miles and when he got here he was amazed at how big Haverhill is, and yet has no connection to the rail network. One of his colleagues said much the same and concluded: "Something has to change.”


Now we fast forward to the afternoon, when Haverhill Area Working Party held a meeting at which two Haverhill chestnuts were well and truly roasted – Gurteens and pedestrianisation.


We heard from Gurteens’ representatives that they are looking at ways of making the best of their site as offices – including their own – and that they will need to retain both the Mill Road and High Street accesses.


And then we heard a new, and possibly final, twist in the pedestrianisation debate. Suffolk County Council’s portfolio holder for transport, Cllr Guy MacGregor, has delivered his decision on the Haverhill High Street issue, which is that the planned improvement works should go ahead and ‘pedestrianisation should not be considered further at the present time’.


So the morning’s motto of ‘something has to change’ turned out to be equally applicable on all three issues - from the point of view of the public.


Surveys have shown, pretty incontrovertibly, that people want the railway, that they want pedestrianisation, and that, to achieve that, they would like Gurteens’ High Street entrance stopped up.


Of course, there is a strong body of opinion the other way. Important stakeholders such as the traders and the blue badge holders do not want pedestrianisation, and they have some support, too, but across the range of users of High Street, the majority has now been shown to be on the other side.


This explains the long-running nature of many of Haverhill’s chestnuts. Nearly all of them follow the same arc – the public want something to happen but those in power either cannot or will not deliver it.


Years of frustration and dissatisfaction follow before a tiny chink is worn away in the wall of resistance and, very, very slowly, progress starts to be made. It may still drag on for years, but, eventually, something is usually achieved, despite the best efforts of distant decision-makers, who may, by then, have been replaced by a new generation, all ready to oppose the next new idea.


This seems, at the same time, both inexplicable and predictable. But there were moments during the area working party meeting yesterday when one gained glimpses of why it happens.


There are several contributing factors – rules of the game, if you like.


Firstly, although it needs numerous little positives in succession to make any progress towards the end result, it only needs one negative to halt it in its tracks.


Secondly, if a halt has been caused, representatives of the big decision-making bodies get behind it, justifying what has caused it and their new position of not spending any time or money on unblocking it.


Thirdly, if anyone tries to promote it or push ahead with it anyway, they are seen as either barmy or subversive and opposed on principle.


Fourthly, a myth is rapidly created that progress is now impossible without shelling out money on a scale which any sane person can see cannot be justified in relation to little old Haverhill, which is backed up by the view from the rest of the borough, county or even country.


Pedestrianisation was going ahead a year ago, after all sorts of trials, tribulations, false starts and so on. Then came the survey which wasn’t – the 106 people of whom only 30 or so were in favour. Anyone could see that was not representative.


But it was not just a blip, it was the one negative which is all that is needed to bring everything crashing down. Cllr MacGregor, who said a year ago they would push this through a public inquiry if necessary, is now saying there will be no public inquiry, and all his county and borough colleagues have done a volte face.


Predictable and, if you know the rules, not inexplicable. Nothing will change.

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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