Home Page Why Queen Street is such a prime example of the generosity of St Edmundsbury to Haverhill 18/07/14

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

It was nice to see earlier this month that town councillors had become aware of the state of Queen Street at last and were looking to have some discussion on the matter, involving borough councillors.


Queen Street is a prime example of the work of St Edmundsbury Borough Council in Haverhill. Some years ago, someone at the borough came up with the idea that Queen Street could become a nice little offshoot of Haverhill High Street, with niche-market shops.


After all, they said, it’s a bit like St John’s Street in Bury St Edmunds, so it could be made to fulfil the same function. There was some merit in the idea, if only they had gone about it in the right way.


But there followed a series of mistakes and planning blunders which have resulted in the current rather sorry state of affairs. This is despite a significant amount of our council tax payers money having been spent, as they are always keen to include in the lists of their generosity to Haverhill (and, as Mark Antony might have put it, St Edmundsbury is a generous benefactor).


It’s difficult to know where to begin. Probably the biggest failure has been not grasping the Queen’s Square issue by the scruff of the neck. But that, in itself, was affected by the decisions over the siting of Tesco.


If the Tesco development had been properly integrated into the town centre, as was perfectly possible under the alternative proposal to run the main road around the back of the store, much benefit might have flowed from it.


But, of course, for all St Edmundsbury’s generosity to Haverhill (and, St Edmundsbury is a generous benefactor), the £1million that would have been needed to bring the road further up the hill, or cut deeper into it, was, alas, unavailable.


St Edmundsbury’s generosity extended to giving the Station Yard, a piece of land it had bought at a knockdown price but then been unable to sell to anyone for years, but no further.


The borough was not helped by the fuss that was kicked up over the houses in the Pightle. Any planners with any guts would have taken that on. Most of them had been bought to let anyway. The Pightle looks nice, as long as the cars are kept out, but it was too high a price to pay for the viability of Queen Street.


The main thoroughfare from the town centre to Tesco should have been through Queen’s Square, bringing that back into much greater use, and maybe negotiating its much-needed demolition and redevelopment into something less offensive to the eye.


Instead, the borough engineered a little piazza (they do love those) where Queen’s Square and Queen Street join, which hardly anyone ever uses. On a miserably wet morning the grand result was unveiled, marked by a little plaque in the pavement, and almost unnoticed by anyone else.


The Queen Street gates were added as an afterthought but, thanks to the ingenuity and clever design of our own local students, plus the efforts of our own local companies, they turned out to be the best bit of the whole thing. But it was, of course, all thanks to the generosity of the borough (and St Edmundsbury is a generous benefactor).


We were told how the Tesco scheme would rejuvenate the whole area. Ask anyone who trades there now what they think of that. In fact, I asked several of them within six months of its inception and they told me then. It has had no effect whatsoever.


So, like the current England cricket team, the borough revealed its extraordinary ability to miss an opportunity - the sort of opportunity which comes all too rarely in a town this size.


It was a re-run of what they had done in Jubilee Walk, which has been so successful that virtually no one goes down there at all anymore, except between 11pm and 3am.


Not content with that, and having the opportunity for a cinema complex and its associated eateries, the borough (and St Edmundsbury is a generous benefactor) managed to site them so far away from the high street that they also have had a minimal effect on its viability.


It is always argued that Cineworld insisted on being on a main thoroughfare. Apart from the fact that that is a bit rich from a company for whom the council was prepared to build a £10.5million complex, surely the obvious answer was the other side of the road.


In the 2005 town centre masterplan the bus station was to be sited beside the leisure centre and the Stour Brook expanded into a shallow lake. For years there have been vague proposals to redevelop Jubilee Walk car park – at one time McDonalds were going to build on part of it.


It would have meant diverting the stream - which is not in its natural course there anyway – and suddenly the town centre would have had some shape to it.


But no, we had to destroy the nice tree-lined frontage, and break up the incipient range of sports facilities from the leisure centre via the tennis club to the cricket and bowls club which was so neatly beginning to emerge on the far side of Ehringshausen Way.


So next time anyone from the borough council waffles on about the vast millions they have spent on Haverhill (for St Edmundsbury is a generous benefactor), it would be appropriate to point to the purpose of ONE Haverhill, which is to try (vainly, one sometimes fears) to get organisations outside Haverhill to spend the money they earmark for the town in ways that we want and will benefit from, rather than on what they think we ought to want, and waiting for the (generally harsh) judgement of time upon them.

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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