Home Page Will the new council show any more will to change than the old? 13/07/15

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

As St Edmundsbury Borough Council comes to terms with the fact that decision-making is not quite so easy when your majority is small, it wouldn’t be a bad time for all borough councillors to take stock of what they and their predecessors have achieved over the last 41 years since the council was created.

They would find much there to encourage them in their deliberations, but one might hope they would find much there to teach them about mistakes they should not make twice.

I stood in the middle of the old cattle market car park in Bury the other day, returning from a quick shopping trip. I don’t rate the town very highly in comparison with Cambridge or Braintree for shopping, but sometimes it can be convenient if you happen to be over that way anyway.

I scanned the 360 degrees of the built townscape around and wondered if planners have any vision in their heads of what they are trying to achieve before they agree schemes. The four different panoramas might have been four completely different towns.

On one side of this huge square open area there is the old town, looking across Risbygate. Facing it are the pleasant, more modern but mainly well-designed buildings along Kings Road. Looking out of town you see the functional but not offensive development around the cinema and eateries – fairly typical of any town nowadays.

Facing that is the curious conglomeration which is known as the Arc and which appears to combine the set of the original Star Trek with Ceausescu’s Rumania but, whatever you think of it (and some people like it) is conveniently and tidily engineered with wide pedestrian boulevards, simple crossings and neat alleyways leading into the town centre.

At my feet was the car park itself, again cleanly engineered and leading through to the cheaper, more established and attractive one on the other side of the Parkway where I have always parked.

I thought back to the old days of the cattle market and fondly-remembered sessions in the now demolished Wellington pub, called to mind what it used to look like and decided that the replacement expresses, if not particularly great taste, a greater affluence and solidity to the town’s economy.

It is, if you like, an economic statement to visitors and, as such, it is a successful one. "This must have cost a bit,” the first-time visitor might murmur to himself as he gets out of his car and puts his money in the pay and display machine.

So then I thought back to when I first worked in Haverhill 40 years ago, arriving in the car park behind Boots - which, like all Haverhill car parking in those days, was free - and walked through one of the alleyways into the high street.

And I tried to see exactly what St Edmundsbury has achieved there over the same period of time. In fact, the area has hardly changed. There has been the creation of Brook Service Road which, in engineering and design terms lives up to the vibrant imagination of its name. The main car park, which was not fully surfaced back then, has been given a cosmetic upgrade.

Jubilee Walk was created, destroying in its birth quite a nice part of the old high street, but, hey, that happens. It was quite grand in the 1970s when Sainsbury’s invested in its brand new supermarket facing the car park.

By the late 1970s this was quite a reasonable approach to the town, showing what St Edmundsbury had achieved in partnership with both Sainsbury’s and Glasswells.

Since then, alas, it has been a tale of steady decline and failure of care. One little refurb gave us the circular seats and the bronze cat, but that’s it.

Now it is an economic statement at least as effective as the cattle market area of Bury but in the opposite direction.

"There’s not much money about here,” the first-time visitor might immediately say to himself as he gets out of his car and walks over to the pay and display machine.

That judgement, of course, does not reflect the real economy, but to a much greater degree it reflects the local authorities. Our first-time visitor, not knowing how local councils are structured, would assume Haverhill and Bury were under two completely different ones.

Not that this dichotomy has gone unnoticed. Even St Edmundsbury’s most parochial councillors must now be aware of it, and if they weren’t, the draft town centre masterplan document draws attention to it.

They would say the issue is being addressed by this very masterplan process. But the trouble is this is not the first opportunity to do something about it. We had a town centre masterplan ten years ago which addressed the issue quite imaginatively. But nothing happened.

And it’s no good blaming the local retail or property markets. There has been investment in Haverhill during that time. There have been multiples arriving in town. There has been an enormous amount of public consultation.

The roadblocks are not just economic. Okay, Haverhill is, as yet, too small to attract many of the retailers we would want and who might, through partnership, help fund all the public realm improvements which are necessary.

But much of what is required is not hugely expensive. It is to do with enabling and with engaging property-owners with a new vision – persuading them of the benefits to themselves of getting involved with that vision.

If any of that has been going on behind the scenes, there is very little evidence of it having had any effect. The borough council could lead the way with serious investment and not just the populist and easy stuff it keeps bragging about having done five years ago. It could show visitors and potential investors that it, at least, has the confidence in Haverhill’s future it keeps talking about so much.

Maybe it will this time. Maybe the new political landscape will help. But don’t hold your breath.

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