Home Page Time to end the catalogue of missed opportunities 25/01/13

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

High streets around the country have begun in recent weeks to look like the famous sinking ship which the rats are leaving, yet until now Haverhill has largely escaped.


This is partly because we didn’t have many of these big chains which have gone under, or else they had already left – Jessops, HMV, Blockbuster and so on.


Nevertheless we had lost Bon Marche, New Look and, of course, the Co-op due to retrenchment. Now we are going to lose Superdrug, which is a significant moment, being such a household name.


Rumours go round again that it is caused by the level of rent being charged by so-called ‘greedy’ landlords. Bon Marche and New Look claimed something similar, being in the same Chauntry Centre line of premises.


If the recession really begins to bite in the high street, Haverhill will once again rue poor planning decisions of the past which have created this clumsy and difficult environment for both shoppers and retailers.


The Chauntry Centre itself is a prime example. Most people probably do not realise this grand name is still officially applied to the line of shops on the south side of the high street between the old Playhouse (Ladbrokes) and Provincial House (Axa).


The reason is that the original scheme was much more extensive and innovative. The site was once, of course, the Cleales forecourt. When the time came for that to close, a neat scheme came forward for creating the Chauntry Centre, a shopping arcade on the lines of others in the area, like the Rookery in Newmarket, or the Grafton in Cambridge


It would have taken up a large area of land to the south of the high street, including what is now Cleales car park, and the Ex-Servicemen’s Club, with its bowls green, which was to be relocated on an open space in Ehringshausen Way, about where the tennis courts and the Meadows car park are now.


The plan fell through because the new club site would have reduced the length of the javelin throw at the sports centre too much.


It is hardly conceivable nowadays that something so fundamental to the viability of the town could have hinged on something so trivial and pretty much irrelevant. The Chauntry Centre as planned would have pulled the town centre out to the side, and away from the one-street scenario which still dogs it.


There’s no certainty that shop units would all have been taken all the time. That is not the case at the Rookery or even the Grafton. But it would have brought new shoppers into the town and increased footfall. In fact, it would have achieved exactly what many people still dream of with regard to the Gurteen site.


This is all old history, you may say, but the sad thing is that these missed opportunities continue to this day. I still maintain the insistence on routing the main road between Tesco and Queen Street has thrown away a fine opportunity for integration and regeneration there.


And we have a current example unfolding. Regular readers of this column may know I keep an eye on developments in a town I particularly like – Macclesfield. There’s a debate going on there at the moment about a site similar to what we have in Haverhill in Jubilee Walk.


There was a large TJ Hughes in Macclesfield, with a car park beside it in the same relation as the Co-op and Jubilee Walk car park. Since TJ Hughes went under the store has remained unoccupied.


Now a plan has come forward for a Cineworld, with associated restaurants and shops. Some shopkeepers are worried it will pull trade away from Macclesfield’s excellent indoor market, which would be a concern.


But leaving that aside and looking at the Co-op site in Haverhill, we can see how suitable it would have been for the Cineworld development if it was not already here. It has main road visibility, which is what Cineworld insisted upon, and it already has a car park, but it is integrated with the town centre, which the actual development is not.


It may not seem far, but the distance is enough to keep the two areas apart. If Hamlet Green ever gets developed, the same will apply. One of our shopkeepers made a valid point at a recent public meeting during the debate on pedestrianisation.


We have an example of full pedestrianisation in Haverhill, he said, and it is called Jubilee Walk – a line of empty premises. That may or not be relevant to High Street pedestrianisation, depending on your view, but it is certainly relevant to Jubilee Walk, which many thought would become the main thoroughfare between two vibrant business areas.


Of course it has been good to have the Cineworld development here, although I am not sure Haverhill people have used it to the level the St Edmundsbury Borough Council expected. But it came at a cost of £10.5million of our money and it has done little or nothing for the town centre.


It is the borough council which has been the continuing theme in these little sagas. The council owned the prospective site for the Ex-Servicemen’s Club. It owned Station Yard where Tesco now stands. It owned the frontage on Ehringshausen Way ripped up for Cineworld. And it owns the empty Co-op.


It doesn’t own the line of High Street shops from which we keep losing retailers. Probably no one can do anything about that. But I really hope the council can come up with a solution to Jubilee Walk which does not result, ten years down the line, in everyone wishing we had grasped the opportunity and done something else.


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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