Home Page Visionary times, but have we got the right vision? 24/05/13

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Hart of the Matter

There seems to be something in the air in Haverhill at the moment which is less familiar than the old chemical stinks which, as far as I am aware, are a thing of the past thanks to modern technology – maybe a hot summer will prove me wrong, if we ever have one again.


But the ‘something in the air’ around at present is idealogical and not sensory. In other places one might call it optimism, but that would be misplaced, given the town’s track record. Here, it is better to call it vision.


Maybe the title Vision 2031 is one of those mythological things which, if repeated often enough, come to be believed.


Be that as it may, people are coming out of the woodwork with their ideas of what they would like Haverhill to be like in their wildest dreams. They are about three years too late because this is exactly what council planners were asking them to do before the Vision 2031 process began.


Maybe people did tell the planners all these things at those consultation events and focus groups which were held to feed into the creation of the final document which is now getting approval. I know I did.


Sadly, no one seems to have taken any notice, if that was the case, because very few really interesting things made their way into it. In the end it was little different from its predecessor Local Plan and each of that one’s predecessors going back to the Gibberd Master Plan of 1970 – the last time anything really radical got into black and white.


But this week, lo and behold, we hear people talking about a monorail link to Cambridge – what? And we see Utopian visions being floated of huge retail developments of the Gurteens and Project sites to bring in all the top shopping names, of museums and galleries, of open spaces and leisure facilities, of a hospital, and so on.


If people did put all this to the planners at the consultation events, someone must have decided that Haverhill people were just plain bonkers, because all this was pure fantasy and utterly impossible. But wasn’t that what they asked for? What would you like in an ideal world?


The trouble is that as soon as any single element of this finds its way into any kind of official document, it raises expectations, which may – in all likelihood will – be dashed, leaving councillors as scapegoats for failure when it comes to the next elections.


Thus it is from Cambridgeshire that we have the first admission of a railway into the equation. If, or when, nothing comes of this, no one is going to be an electoral scapegoat in Cambridgeshire. In fact councillors might appear heroic as having defended their villages.


It’s the old adage of keeping the public’s expectations as low as possible and then you may achieve them or, who knows, even exceed them, and guarantee re-election.


Only if some of our representatives can somehow be tarred with the brush of Cambridgeshire’s optimism, or ‘vision’, would they then begin to have an incentive to think outside the little box which has contained the town’s aspirations for four decades.


It seems that we have to look to business for something more expansive, whether it be a Buy Local campaign or a new-look Haverhill Show. They, apparently, are now ‘the community’.


Don’t get me wrong – for years I have been going on about trying to get business engaged in the community, and now we have at least some small evidence of it in action, so three cheers for them.


But the public has a part to play as well – all those people with the visionary ideas which ‘they’ (the council, the Government, someone) should get done. The reality is that there are many areas where the public is the only powerbase which can achieve some – in fact, quite a lot – of that vision.


Take the state of Haverhill’s retail offer, for example. Amid the dream of the future there is always a place for grand retail development including all the top market leaders. How is this to be achieved?


Well, the council should make it happen, uninformed people always reply. Even if any council owned any suitable sites – and the only example of that is the old Co-op – they wouldn’t have the power to make any company take it on.


The only reason any of the big companies are ever going to come to Haverhill is if they believe we want them to, in large enough numbers to make it a commercially viable move. It may be that the latest census figures will help a little. Ten years ago they would have helped a lot, but not now.


The world is changing faster than we can imagine. It is not impossible that all the debate in the world about improving Haverhill’s retail offer, or pedestrianising the high street will completely obsolete within five years.


The ‘vision’ may be very different. How about this: a high street made up of fast food outlets, coffee bars, bookies and amusement arcades, but with a shop window from, say, Amazon, where you can browse. The whole town centre would become one gigantic version of Argos, because no one wants to physically wander around old-fashioned shops any more when they can do it online.


And not just Haverhill. Cambridge would be the same. You wouldn’t need a monorail connection with any shops, just a delivery system for people to be able to get to work. And that would only be the people who couldn’t work from home, like the care staff at Addenbrooke’s.


Everyone else would just need a super-superfast broadband connection. Gurteens and Project sites can go for housing. If you want to visit a museum, it will be on line. Perhaps we’ll just keep some open space so we don’t forget what outdoors looks like.

If this seems like a nightmare, who would have been responsible for it? The answer is you, the public, because you have the power through your shopping behaviour.

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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