Home Page We need some facts before we can be usefully consulted 12/12/14

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

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, like Newmarket.

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 conclusion.

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.

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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