Hart of the Matter
Issues within the town centre are beginning to coalesce in
the run-up to the huge public consultation promised as part of developing a
masterplan for its future.
We have seen Gurteens’ latest hopes and plans explained. We
are seeing an experiment in action to curb illegal parking in High Street, and
we await signs which will enable a crackdown on driving in the street as well.
We now have some idea about what the future of the former Bell
pub might turn out to be. We have seen how the new-look churchyard will look.
Now we hear that a choice will be made from three top
consultants to carry out the work in Haverhill – definitive work, we hope, at
last, which will put to bed once and for all the division of view about what
the town centre should be like.
In your dreams! The consultants will have no more idea how to
solve the intractable issues, any more than anyone else – neither will they
want to. Their brief will be to find out what the people want.
The irony is that we already know that. Some people want the
street to be fully pedestrianised from 10am to 4pm, and others don’t. In fact,
those others might well prefer it to be fully open to two-way traffic.
To think that anything the consultants might discover is going
to change that is just pie-in-the-sky, will-o’-the-whisp optimism. The best
they could do is to suggest which way the majority lies, and even that is bound
to be contested.
Already at yesterday’s Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP)
meeting the first salvos were being put across the consultants’ bows. Will they
be told that the town council favours pedestrianisation? Will they be given
access to the mountain of data already collected by countless previous surveys
of the same ground? Will they be told that Vision 2031 specifies pedestrianisation?
I could add a few more. Will they be told that the town’s
police chief once again told a public meeting this week that barriers were the
only way to top the illegal parking and driving? He was just restating the
views of his predecessors and his predecessors’ bosses, re-iterated over and
over again in public.
Will they be told that the traders will fight it, backed by
the financial might of Gurteens and the moral might of the disabled lobby, by
taking any attempt to close the street to a public inquiry? Will they be told
that Suffolk County Council clearly thinks that the street closure lobby would
lose at any such inquiry anyway, so isn’t prepared to fork out for it?
Will they look at Sir Frederick Gibberd’s old 1970
Masterplan and bang their heads against the wall that no one ever built the
required southern rear access road?
Anyway, if anyone catches Cllr Maureen Byrne in the survey
they will be left in little doubt that if they don’t come forward with street
closure as the main option they will, to quote her words, ‘have anarchy on
their hands down here’. I think we can safely call that a salvo.
However, by the time this survey is in full swing sometime
in the summer, we may well have a UKIP town council. Would that have a
different view? Who knows? I doubt if even they do. I doubt if some of them even
know that they are going to be standing for the council yet.
In fact, I doubt if many of the public are absolutely 100
per cent sure of their own view. I know I’m not, although I used to be
marginally on the side of closing the street. That’s right, I used to be
indecisive but now I’m not so sure.
I wish we had a nice little square at the centre of the town
which didn’t go anywhere in particular and made it easy to close off, like
Saffron Walden or Bury St Edmunds. Instead we’ve got a whacking great long road
through the middle that quite patently does go from somewhere to somewhere else,
But if it was just like Newmarket it would be dead easy. You
couldn’t pedestrianise that. Unfortunately we also have a Relief Road which
makes it perfectly possible from a traffic management and civil engineering
point of view. So it comes down to subjective views and vested interests. Well,
good luck to any consultants who try to make a survey of those and reach any
If we are going to answer the unanswerable – and I guess, if
the consultants do their job as thoroughly as we have been promised, quite a
lot of us are going to be asked to – we probably need more information.
One fact I would like to have at hand is how potential
retailers whom we are hoping to attract to our new town centre would view
street closure or two-way traffic. After all, if anything is going to be done,
we need it to be beneficial, not just convenient or nice-looking, and that is
just about the most beneficial thing I can think of.
So I hope the consultants will not spend all their time
talking to us and then analysing our ill-informed, undecided and inarticulate answers.
We need people to do research and then come along and ask us our opinion on
specific options and their potential effects.
For instance, if they were to say that a survey of major
retailers has shown that 85 per cent of them would completely discount locating
in a town centre which was fully pedestrianised during the day, that might
seriously affect my view and, I would suggest, the views of many.
If such a survey had shown that 60 per cent of them would
not be swayed either way and 40 per cent would be encouraged to locate here, we
might well think again.
So, as people are always saying with regard to the European
referendum, give us some facts.