Home Page Times are changing and we are standing up 03/08/13

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

With just a week to go before the closing date for public consultation on the Vision 2031 planning documents, Haverhill Town Council have expressed a series of reservations and suggested changes which, at last, begin to deal with the fundamental deficiencies found within.


Maybe I have missed the town council’s comments on previous stages of the process, but this seems to me to be their most detailed and categorical criticism so far, no doubt affected by the results on the latest census and the radical ideas the Cambridgeshire local authorities have been debating about transport links.


I don’t know the ins and outs of this procedure to make a judgment on whether any views addressed to St Edmundsbury’s planners who have drawn up the documents can even be included at this late stage.


I had thought all views from now on had to be addressed to the Government’s planning inspector, but maybe they all just get sent to him/her, along with the documents.


If so, I don’t see how any rational person, reading both, could do other than send the Vision 2031 documents back to St Edmundsbury with a black mark and an instruction to do their work again – but maybe it doesn’t work like that.


The problem is that the changes which are needed are not cosmetic. Of course there are areas where a bit of re-wording – and even proof-reading – will suffice. But in many cases  you’d pretty much have to start again, and the process has already been ongoing for three years.


Which leads me to wonder why reality has struck everyone so late in the day. After all, there have been plenty of opportunities to comment before now. Granted, the issue of population growth was highlighted by the census results, but it was already there.


Equally, the A1307 corridor issue is of long-standing, and the campaign for a railway is more than 20 years old. These issues were, I know for a fact, given high priority in many of the comments from the public as early as the core strategy consultations, but no one took any notice.


Coming down to more recent developments, this latest blast is from a town council which has three representatives who sit on the Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP) which approved the latest Vision 2031 draft just two months ago.


So what has changed? Well, there has been an election, the results of which may have made some people fear for their seats, but that is not enough in itself.


I think the last two months have been quite historic in the history of Haverhill, because some of our representatives have begun to believe. By that I mean they have begun to think that many of the things which they had been ground down to think were just ‘pie in the sky’ fairytale ideas might have some mileage in them.


The size of the town gives it just that bit more clout. The Government seems to be aware of the existence of Haverhill. Our MP is starting to show what he can do. Cambridgeshire has included little old Haverhill in its radical new thinking on transport solutions.


Perhaps – just perhaps – we don’t have to remain the prisoners of an Ipswich-centred oligarchy. New members have been elected who have created a new political landscape and will make it difficult for Suffolk County Council to ignore its more far-flung corners.


Tectonic shifts in power-bases are detectable, and one of them is a small, but significant, increase in interest in these matters among the general public in Haverhill.


Hot chestnuts like the high street pedestrianisation saga, the north-east Haverhill debate and the railway renewal campaign have made some people realise that these things are firstly, important, and secondly, possible.


No longer will residents and, therefore, their representatives, be satisfied with someone telling us this is the best we can hope for and we’ve just got to get on with it.


Council officers in Bury and Ipswich have not yet quite cottoned on to this fact, but they are soon going to have to. There are threats in the latest response from the town council of taking some of these issues to a public inquiry, and you can bet there are other people out there – residents, businesses, even neighbouring authorities – who may be thinking the same.


There has been a democratic deficit in Haverhill since at least local government re-organisation in 1974, and some would say 25 years before that when the mice of Haverhill first began talking to the tiger of London County Council.


Successive local authorities have failed the town, but now, at last, some of them may be held to account, although it could take years to see the fruits of such a reckoning.


Instead of, as in the past, tugging the forelock and thanking St Edmundsbury for the £21million they are continually reminding us that they have spent on Haverhill recently – as if it was their gift and not our right to be equally considered with Bury St Edmunds – the town council’s latest response clearly states that this is nowhere near what the town actually requires.


Whether or not there are public funds available for any proposals is irrelevant. At last we are not even looking at what is available, what is deliverable now, what is likely to happen, we are just stating what is required.


It should be documented across the region what Haverhill requires by its very existence, not just for the whims of its residents, and then failure to implement these requirements becomes a demonstrable failure of someone – local authority, regional agency or national government and can be clearly identified as such.

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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