Home Page Where have all the new ideas for Haverhill gone? 15/02/13

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Hart of the Matter

Over the next few weeks two of Suffolk County Council’s senior figures will be making the long trek to Haverhill for meetings, which might make one think the town has somehow veered into view in Ipswich, like a planet in a wobbly outer orbit which is only visible every 200 years.


In fact it’s pure coincidence that the council chief executive Deborah Cadman is talking to business people next week and its transport supremo Cllr Guy MacGregor faces the local Safer Neighbourhood Team public forum a fortnight or so later.


There will be some crossovers of local concerns between the two meetings, the main one no doubt being High Street traffic. But it’s hard to escape the impression that Haverhill has been cut loose and is wandering free of wider local authority interest.


For some 80 per cent of the time I have been reporting in Haverhill, the commonest phrase I wrote in any stories concerning local community development and facilities was ‘St Edmundsbury Borough Council’.


Almost everything was down to the borough from grass-cutting to highways, from waste collection to planning and from culture to housing.


Now I rarely write that phrase. Housing – Havebury; highways – Suffolk County Council; culture – Haverhill Town Council; grass-cutting – ONE Haverhill; and so on. They do still collect our bins, and they are still the planning authority, although this latter is more evident in the vast documents they produce for consultation than in anything particularly helpful on the ground.


The funeral parlour next to the proposed site for a replacement care home for Place Court has been approved, so they are still on the ball with sustainability and reducing people’s carbon footprint, even after death.


But, in general, one now gains the impression that Haverhill’s had its turn, when the borough spent its much-vaunted and often eulogised £21million on the town, to facilitate the advancement of such deprived organisations as Tesco and Cineworld.


At the time of the grand opening of Tesco, there was a commitment that this would not be the end of the borough’s initiatives in Haverhill, but since then we have had the recession resulting in a chorus of the ‘lack of resources’ excuse.


When the borough has managed to offload the Apex to anyone fool enough to want to take it over, this phrase might have a more acceptable ring in Haverhill, but for the moment it should surely be us who are chorusing: "What the hell are they doing?”


You may remember that one of the borough’s initiatives to show their commitment to Haverhill was to set up a Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP). It was – and still is – made up of borough councillors, who vote, and other relevant representatives of partner organisations working in the town, who don’t vote.


In recent times it appears to have done less and less. There was supposed to have been a quarterly meeting of it this week but that was cancelled due to lack of business. The same thing happened to one of its meetings last year.


Another initiative to show the borough’s commitment to Haverhill was the appointment of a portfolio holder for Haverhill. This was announced with a fanfare and seemed an excellent idea. The portfolio did have responsibility for housing attached to it as well, but as the borough had handed over its housing to Havebury long ago, that seemed a trivial addition.


If you go to St Edmundsbury’s website now you will find that Haverhill has disappeared from the title of that role. It is the portfolio for housing, licensing and environmental health.


Haverhill matters are still listed within its remit and, no doubt, treated very seriously, should they arise. In the ordinary way these semantic changes of title mean little. But the creation of a portfolio for Haverhill was trumpeted, and its demise was not.


I presume this was partly brought about by the fact that, if HAWP did not meet there was nothing for the portfolio holder to report on at the next cabinet meeting.


It may be no coincidence that this change is roughly contemporary with the handing over of St Edmundsbury’s highways powers to Suffolk County Council. From next April, of course, highways will be passed on to Balfour Beatty.


But that aside, why does HAWP have so little business? The answer is that the council has become almost entirely re-active, rather than pro-active. If there is nothing much to re-act to, it does nothing. HAWP has no new ideas, no new initiatives, and the only new items on its agenda seem to be presentations from other people about their initiatives.


The biggest item on its agenda at the moment is a piece of public art for High Street – the giant broadcasting head. This is a brilliant idea, but there is a group overseeing it already called Public Art in the Town Centre of Haverhill (PATCH), and all HAWP does is rubber-stamp PATCH.


HAWP has managed to achieve a stalemate over the traffic situation in the town centre and the last big thing it actually decided was the design of those piddling new entry signs to the town which are about as distinctive as baked beans.


If HAWP does not soon start generating its own work with a bit of innovative thought its days must, sadly, be numbered.

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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