Home Page Yet another survey, but do it anyway to see if you agree with me 25/11/11

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Not for the first time, the impression surfaces this week that Haverhill must be the most surveyed town in Britain.


I can’t begin to count the number of surveys which have been done about various aspects of town life, although the majority have probably focused on the town centre.


I have a folder crammed with the results of these surveys, presented in all formats ranging from a simple bullet-point sheet to a glossy book accompanied by a sophisticated PowerPoint slide show.


To the best of my knowledge very few of them have had any sort of tangible effect, although they may, incrementally, have assisted some areas of progress which we have witnessed.


It would be illuminating to know how much public money has been spent on them and how many hours of publicly-resourced time have been given over to collecting them and analysing them. The latest fashion is for getting PhD students to do the work, which we saw last year with the Kent Business School, and now they are back for more.


This time the survey is more in-depth, has been put together based on the results of the last one, and is aimed at finding information the last one failed to elicit.


Nevertheless it is just one sheet again (both sides this time), presumably because anything longer might be a bit daunting for the time-pressed shopper.


It also aims – as, indeed, the last one did – to reach those who do not shop in Haverhill at all, to find out why, and what might make them change their minds.


The results, we are told, will not bring M&S to the town next year. Expectations have to be ‘realistic’. Sadly, as far as I am concerned at least, the questionnaire also needs to be a bit more realistic.


It begins by asking how many times one has visited a variety of surrounding towns to shop over the past month. As it happens, I haven’t shopped anywhere other than in Haverhill or at farmer’s markets or farm shops during that period.


However, I do sometimes visit other towns and I do have an opinion about them. Therefore, do I answer honestly and just indicate Haverhill, which would be very misleading, or do I invent visits to other towns in the past month so I can rate them?


When it comes down to the next series of questions, asking one to rate the importance a variety of features in deciding where to shop, again the questionnaire does not seem to take account of people like me – ie older people who don’t like the hurly-burly of crowded towns, don’t have a great deal to spend and find supermarket produce generally tasteless.


I suppose ‘lots of speciality shops’ is an important one, and tends to lead me to Saffron Walden before Christmas. ‘Outdoor markets’ is a good one too, especially for fish, fruit and veg, cheese, cakes, olives, etc. The rest seem either unimportant or irrelevant.


Some of them obviously take account of people’s prejudices, and I suppose that is a crucial element in this debate. ‘No fear of crime’ is one. I have lived and worked in Haverhill, shopped in it and used its night-time economy for nearly 40 years and I can honestly say that fear of crime has never entered my head when I go out, as it does frequently when I visit most other towns. So that is just a red herring, but no doubt one which will be liberally served up in the results.


‘Appearance/character’ seems a strange reason to shop somewhere. Bury St Edmunds looks nice enough and has plenty of historical character but as a shopping centre I have never rated it at all. Now, since the cattle market redevelopment, I’m not sure it even looks very nice any more.


‘Cost of car parking’ is one of the options, and yet ‘ease of car parking’ is not, and that, for me, is pretty important. It deters me from tackling Cambridge, which I otherwise like, because I have to use park and ride. It encourages me to use Saffron Walden, and also Sudbury, despite the fact that the road journey is the worst of all the towns listed. The fact that parking is free in Sudbury weighs less than that you can generally find somewhere fairly easily.


Then we come to other things which are not there. ‘Indoor market’ would be a good one, although I am not sure if any of the neighbouring towns have one. I love really good indoor markets – Leicester, Stafford, Macclesfield and, of course, Borough in London.


‘Good signage’ is another. I really dislike not being able to find my way around a town on foot, and if there are finger posts and, better still, maps of where the main shops and facilities are, that counts for a lot.


So, although I shop a lot in Haverhill anyway, someone probably needs to turn the sad-looking, closed-down Co-op into a quality indoor market to ensure I don’t look around elsewhere.


Now, just fill in the questionnaire yourself and see how much you disagree with me. It’s around for the next seven days in loads of shops and other town premises, it’s on line and there’s a £100 prize for one lucky person drawn out of the hat. Maybe that will be me, because I’ve done mine.

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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