Home Page What type of housing shall we cover our countryside with? 17/12/10

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

So now it’s official. The location for the next big wave of housing development is to be north-east Haverhill, between the Chalkstone and Calford Green.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council agreed the core strategy for its Local Development Framework (LDF) this week, a sort of blueprint for development in the borough to 2031.

There has been a lot of argument about where a great big dollop of new housing should go, and now north-east Haverhill has been confirmed. Curiously, the size of the dollop is now less certain than when planners began this process.

Then we were told by regional authorities that the town would have to take an extra 2,500 homes over the next 20 years.

But the new Government has removed the authorities which set such targets and now leaves it pretty much up to our local councils – in this case St Edmundsbury.

It remains to be seen whether Haverhill will eventually grow by about a quarter, as that allocation would have produced, or whether other factors intervene in the meantime.

When I first started writing about planning processes and decisions, their long-term nature struck me as an interesting alternative to society’s generally short-term thinking in the late 20th century.

Now I have reached an age where I may not even see the final results of what the planners are working on, I just find it rather depressing.

I remember the decades when we speculated on the hypothetical Haverhill bypass, until it finally materialised nearly 20 years on. We have now been speculating about the north-west relief road for nearly as long, and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of it yet.

And that will have to be built, along with all the housing which goes with it, before anyone will even start to think of the new lot in north-east Haverhill. It is just a very slow process.

Not that I am over-keen to see it all happen, from an aesthetic point of view. I know it should boost the town’s economy and services, and it is going to be necessary to find places for people to live, but some of that countryside – particularly beyond the Chalkstone and Wilsey estates – is very attractive.

I always enjoy the walk from Chalkstone up to Calford Green, and if you have never done it I suggest you do while you still can. Equally, the countryside around the end of Ann Suckling Road is very pleasant. There have even been some interesting archaeological discoveries up there during the preliminary work on the as yet undeveloped area of north-west Haverhill.

But that north-west bypass is going to be doubly important when the extra development in north-east Haverhill eventually happens, because, unless the internal combustion engine has been superseded by then, it is going to be the main arterial route to Cambridge for the occupants of the new homes.

A proposed north-east bypass has been axed from the strategy – perhaps just as well as it would probably have gone through the golf course.

But it does make you wonder about the sustainability of all this. Even if all these people are to be employed locally, they will still have to get across town somehow, and it’s very steep for bikes.

If you stand on the edge of the built up area in either part of the town and look out across the fields it does seem a pity that they won’t always be there.

But in the case of the north-east Haverhill area there is also a precedent being set, because new homes built there will be beyond the skyline for the first time in the town’s history.

If you get the chance to look at the view from the top of St Mary’s Church tower, you will see what that means. At the moment you can see the whole town from there.

Everything is still within the oval envelope envisaged by Sir Frederick Gibberd in his Masterplan of 1970. It is not all complete yet. The development planned between Meadowlands and Boyton Hall will be the last piece of that particular jigsaw.

The developers there have recently got the council to agree to some more ‘executive-style’ housing, which is much needed.

The land beyond Chalkstone, however, is outside the envelope in the Gibberd Plan because that only envisaged development as far as the skyline in all directions from the centre of town.

What is more, recent developments have shown that there may soon be a severe shortage of affordable homes. The latest proposals to change housing benefit are already causing private landlords to consider getting out of the rental market.

Councils can no longer fill the gap, so it will be down to housing associations. So the pressure will be on for higher and higher percentages of affordable homes, which is all very well except that it does nothing to improve the local retail offer, because few of the big retailers we want to attract are interested in those with lower disposable incomes.

It will be interesting to see how the new Masterplan for Haverhill, which we are told will flow from this core strategy, addresses these issues.

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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