Home Page Who is making money out of Haverhill staying as it is? 05/08/11

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Despite Haverhill probably being the most surveyed and consulted town in Britain in recent years, the end results of all that analysis have been hard to discern. In the last few weeks we have had a couple of hints as to why that may be.


Of course, there have been some obvious benefits from straightforward, simple questions asked by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.


Twice, the council has asked the town’s young people what would be top of their wish list for the town. In the 1990s the answer was a night club, and the council helped a private operator to create Rush – above Argos, if you’re too young or too recent to remember – which exploded onto the scene like a firework and lasted just about as long.


Then, in the early Noughties, the answer to the same question had metamorphosed itself into a cinema, and one was duly provided by a deal between the council and the operator (Cineworld). I hope it is better patronised than seems to be the case whenever I go – but then, my tastes may be different, and I’m not quite so impatient to see the blockbusters.


Most surveys which include all age groups end up with a bland wish for ‘better shops’, and the council’s answer to that was to clinch a deal with Tesco on the assumption that other big players would arrive on its coat-tails, some of which has happened.


But it seems to me that these surveys rarely ask the right questions – the sort of questions which will uncover the root causes of what Haverhill lacks, and what the roadblocks are to progress.


But, just lately, one or two of the right questions are starting to be asked and (possibly) answered. The first one came at the big meeting convened by our MP Matthew Hancock earlier this year. Someone asked: "Why is petrol (or diesel) so much more expensive in Haverhill than in other places?”


Mr Hancock, I think, had not really been aware of the issue until then, but he has looked into it since, and so have several other people. The answer, of course, is simple – lack of competition for Sainsbury’s. If Tesco had a filling station, the price would soon come down between the two of them, and force the other garages to follow suit, as is the case elsewhere.


Then, in the face of the notice by one or two high street retailers that they were quitting, or at least looking for somewhere cheaper, because their rental was being hiked up, people began to ask: "Who is it that makes Haverhill High Street too expensive for interesting little shops?” By that they mean the sort everyone fondly imagines would make the town centre a much more attractive place to outsiders.


In fact, Haverhill Town Council is now looking into buying a couple of shop premises near the arts centre, believing it can operate them profitably at a rental that ‘interesting’ shops might be able to afford. That implies others are not.


So, at last, we are starting to ask the right questions, which boil down to one simple one: "Who is making money out of blocking Haverhill’s progress?”


Once we start asking that one, we can begin to find ways of fighting back. Towns don’t generally stagnate naturally. It should be in the interests of all the businesses in the town for it to move forward and become more prosperous.


Sadly, in the dim background, and behind the frontages and bright lights of hard-working businesses, there tend to be other, less hard-working profit-takers, who use the town’s weaknesses to feather their nests, large or small.


We cannot escape the fact that Sainsbury’s, although its presence in Haverhill since the mid 1970s has been a huge benefit, has also strangulated potential competition. When it first opened in Jubilee Walk there was much rejoicing, and deservedly so, because the deal was better than the town might have expected or deserved.


Sainsbury’s historical links with Blunts Hall farm, later Haverhill Meat Products, led the company to put something back into the community. Later, when it moved to Hanchet End, the new store was one of the biggest in the UK – again, more related to sentimental attachment than to the potential market.


But it worked. We thought how lucky we were and bought into it again, failing to see that the very size of Sainsbury’s investment in Haverhill was fencing out the sort of competitive environment to be found in other towns. Even now, Tesco will struggle to level up the playing field.


Other High Street players, both national and independent, find themselves on the edge of viability because Haverhill is still, in many ways, a one-shop town. That means they are sensitive to rent rises.


But High Street property is not owned locally, and so changes tend to be driven by outside factors, without reference to Haverhill’s needs. In fact, the current situation suits both Sainsbury’s and the town centre property owners. And as long as the spotlight is not cast on them, they have no incentive to change.


Now, who else is making money out of Haverhill staying as it is? Any ideas?

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.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer