Home Page There's more to promoting Haverhill than chrome, glass and steel 07/11/14

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

At the rate things are going, the parameters of ONE Haverhill’s project to create a masterplan for the town centre will soon be almost as wide as those of the current trouble-fraught inquiry into child abuse in high places.


Last week, when a member of the public raised an issue which has been simmering for the best part of 30 years, St Edmundsbury’s failure to promote Haverhill properly, we were told that even that will be down to this vast and all-consuming project.


What has the promotion of Haverhill’s facilities got to do with the town centre masterplanning process? If these two issues interface at all it is only quite tangentially.


The latest catalyst for raising the promotion of the town – or lack of it – was its absence from a new borough publication about things to see and do around here.


This is an old, old story and, whether intentionally or just through sheer ineptitude, borough officers continue to ignore the many places in Haverhill which are well worth a visit. It seems that unless something is part of a medieval abbey, or a Georgian streetscene, they are not interested in it and cannot bring themselves to notice its existence.


They are not alone, of course. Suffolk County Council’s publications which may, on occasion, try to tempt the visitor to travel as far west as Clare for a dose of history, or Newmarket for a flutter, routinely ignore the existence of Haverhill.


Regional publications are even less likely to be aware of Haverhill’s existence and as for national ones – well, if there is cultural deprivation in most of the rural areas of Britain, there is a complete cultural void in Haverhill as far as outsiders are concerned.


Part of this, of course, is our own fault. Haverhill is, as everyone keeps saying, a forward-looking town. It is full of entrepreneurs creating jobs, we are told, and it is the ideal place from which to leap off into business stardom.


Thus we have pieces of supposedly modern and forward-looking art on the Gateway roundabout, and at the entrances to Queen Street. The visitor, it is hoped, will swiftly gain the impression that Haverhill is a place of chrome, glass and stainless steel, with perhaps the odd piece of white wood to reference its rural location.


From such places, of which the proposed Epicentre at Haverhill Research Park will be a prime example, the engine of economic growth is driven and the future of our young people is assured.


There’s a lot of truth in this and I would be the last person to overlook any of it. But along with it goes the downside of such economic tunnel-vision, which is that we don’t want ever to look back at the bad old days of manufacture, of agriculture, of overspill or of poverty.


Thus the business element in decision-making was very keen that the new welcome signboards should be clean, uncluttered and ‘modern’. The inclusion of even such simple subsidiary statements as ‘A Market Town’ was opposed on the grounds that it constituted ‘looking back’. And, as we know, the needs of business are paramount and must be acceded to, whatever the cost.


So the very last thing which business wants to see is outdated Victorian buildings being renovated at vast expense. What good are they? they ask. Better to get rid of them altogether and replace with chrome, glass, stainless steel, et al. Then visitors will know they have arrived at an engine for growth, not a museum of decay.


After all, our most prominent developer has been quite open about how he would rather have seen Gurteens factory razed to the ground and replaced with – well, you’ve guessed it, and probably it might have had a Waitrose sign over the top of the new edifice.


Those who see opposition to retail pods as killing job opportunities and retail facilities for town residents should ponder on how they might well have fought to retain Gurteens, at the cost of far more jobs and a far more important retail development.


Unfortunately, buildings speak to people. That is why dynamic forward-looking businesses like to be housed in glass, chrome, stainless steel et al. And they don’t only speak to customers, or to investors. They also speak to young people.


There’s been a bit of talk over the last week or two about the Old Corn Exchange as a potential home for the proposed H1 youth hub. Hopefully, the youth hub project has taken on board the fact that young people are unlikely to patronise facilities created for them by older people.


We know the old ‘youth club’ idea of my adolescence has pretty much died a death nowadays. Anyone who tried to create one would find few takers, as we have been consistently warned by our young people themselves.


Can anyone tell me why on earth young people would then feel encouraged to congregate in a manifestly old building with its Victorian red brick and its patterns of swastikas – and you can be sure no one would be allowed to change the outside.


I always feel sorry for those who end up in the Cangle – not because its facilities are at all defective, but because it is just such an un-cool-looking place to live.


No, if the Corn Exchange is to be saved – and I sincerely hope it can be -  it will have to be by the aspirational middle classes, for the aspirational middle classes. Something like a restaurant or a museum, or both, seemed a possibility at one time, but the money is just not around at the moment. As for Pixielated Products – well, we’ll wait and see.


I still believe the right place for a museum is in the Gurteen buildings somewhere, with the steam engine Caroline as the central feature. Now that would be something which might even get into a St Edmundsbury publication.

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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