Home Page Vision has got to mean more than parking, street furniture and low crime 18/02/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

So here we are at last – welcome to my long-awaited efforts to wrestle with the question of why anyone would want to come to Haverhill now, or at any time over the next 20 years.


You may think this is a frivolous question but, in many ways, it is one of the most crucial in any long-term plans. For a town to grow, people have got to want to live there. For its commercial heart to be viable, people have got to be attracted to go there and use its shops and services. For its infrastructure to be improved, there has to be a demonstrable demand to travel to it as well as from it.


I think one of the things that have held people back from promoting the more dramatic improvements to Haverhill’s transport links is the fear that if you make it more convenient to travel elsewhere that is just what Haverhill people will do.


But a town is not a prison. I am sure Cambridge businesses would rather people stayed in the city and used them, but that doesn’t make them oppose improvements in travel to London.


There are always going to be bigger magnets, but the trick is to make yours attractive enough to pull in as many as it lets go, or preferably more.


Haverhill people have the right to be able to travel easily to alternative centres for work, for shopping, for leisure, etc, without feeling they are letting the side down and contributing to the failings of their own town. What will make that certain is a confidence in the ability of their own town to draw in people from elsewhere, allowing the home economy to continue to prosper and be available when they turn to it, out of choice or desperation.


It may be an age of sustainability, but it is also one of choice, and the two can be uncomfortable bedfellows.


So why would people want to travel to Haverhill? Sadly, although the town is very pleasant in many ways now, it is not noticeably more so than its competitors. It is not studded with beautiful buildings, it doesn’t have a stunning riverside setting, an ancient castle or a remarkable Saxon church.


Neither does it have a historic racecourse, a university, the birthplace of a famous artist or the fleeting fame of a regular television appearance. And it is still, to a large degree, a one-street town.


It has convenient parking, reasonably free traffic flow and a low crime rate. These are useful supporting arguments, but not major players in decision-making by potential visitors. Poor parking, traffic congestion and a high crime rate might have a serious negative effect, but their opposites are little more than makeweights – and, anyway, Cambridge suffers from all three but it doesn’t stop people flooding there.


It strikes me that if this Haverhill Masterplan process called Vision 2031 means anything it should be addressing this one central issue, because everything else flows from it.


Now you may say we can’t build a castle, divert a river or make a Haverhill native famous overnight, and I agree. So heritage, in the sense we mostly think of it, is not a starting point.


This is the argument of developer Nic Rumsey, who wants to see the Gurteen site levelled to make way for a major retailer or two.


However, because we have so little heritage in Haverhill, we are rather keen to hang on to it, so that is a price too far, if the only result is to be a couple of big national stores which people can visit anywhere. The carrot would have to be a lot more than that.


Of there were no other mill towns in Britain, Haverhill would already be a visitor attraction but, sadly, the north is full of them, and there are plenty of survivals available to visit.


Nevertheless, the old textile mill is an interesting site – central to the town and distinctive. It‘s a lot better prospect than a lot of shopping centres in towns where they have bulldozed and started with a blank sheet. You only have to look down the street at Queen’s Square to see what that can produce – and people thought that was a prestigious and distinctive design at the time.


Much better to build on the old and use it to your advantage.


So, tentatively, here are a few ideas as a start. Widen the commercial area. Use the Gurteens site and the telephone exchange site to create space for a retail area around the hub of Wetherspoons. Perhaps pedestrianise the bottom end of Mill Road at least to allow for shops in Gurteen’s back yard.


Create a proper alternative through route around Crowland Road, so more of Camps Road can be part pedestrianised as well (this was in the 1970 Masterplan, but never done).


Earmark a heritage centre in the main Gurteen building and knock all the rest down. Also, negotiate the removal of the frontage buildings – Lloyds Bank. Chapmans etc, in return for new premises in the wide open shopping courtyard which would be created – perhaps on two levels with a gallery.


Include a stunning modern building to contrast and compliment the Gurteen centre, and house Britain’s – maybe the world’s – most complete computer heritage site within it. Then make sure people can get here easily from every corner of the country to visit it.

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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