Suffolk’s highways chief was branded ‘arrogant’ by Haverhill’s former mayor in a fiery public meeting.
The accusation came at Monday’s (March 11) Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) meeting at Burton End Primary School, where Suffolk County Councillor Guy McGregor explained the county’s vision for Haverhill High Street to be a ‘shared space’ rather than pedestrianised.
St Edmundsbury and town Cllr Maureen Byrne said to him ‘your arrogance is offensive’ after he responded to accusations of ignoring localism by merely stating ‘Suffolk County Council is the highways authority’.
Cllr McGregor, cabinet member for roads and transport, had begun by suggesting a ‘virtual rail’ link between Haverhill and Stansted Airport.
The plan would be for a bus service to link Haverhill to the airport, which has 17.5 million passengers annually, and then onto London.
However, Cllr Byrne said: “That’s not why you’re here – if this happens it would be great, but we should concentrate on what you were invited to discuss with us this evening.”
The focus duly switched to pedestrianisation of the High Street, and Suzann Buck from the county council proposed an 18 month ‘experiment’ after the May elections to extend the existing restrictions to Camps Road at Market Square, saying this would reduce traffic through the town centre road by 60 per cent.
With £750,000 of borough and £183,000 of county council cash to splash on the road, she explained a shared space such as Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds, Hamilton Road in Felixstowe and Poynton in Cheshire would be developed in Haverhill.
Cllr McGregor also promised a seminar on the issue after the May elections.
There was opposition though at the council’s insistence of pursuing a shared space scheme rather than pedestrianisation, and town clerk Will Austin said it would merely make Mill Road and Chauntry Road rat runs and not remove the problem of illegal parking on the road.
“Police suggest closing the High Street but the county council suggest we ignore police advice, ignore the community views as 70 per cent of people favour pedestrianisation and ignore town council policy – we need a more local approach to the solution from the community rather than from afar,” he said.
He added that the Felixstowe road had a parallel route and so ‘doesn’t provide the answers’.
Chris Cullum said Haverhill ‘is buzzing’ when pedestrianised between 10am and 4pm on Saturdays and that this should be replicated throughout the week, though Mark Chapmen said his and other businesses couldn’t cope due to the lack of rear access.
Town Cllr Clive Turner insisted the cash must be well spent, and one woman said driving through a shared space would be confusing and dangerous in the absence of road markings and signage.
After being branded ‘arrogant’ by Cllr Byrne, Cllr McGregor insisted he is ‘committed’ to improving Haverhill and Suffolk’s market towns.
“We’re determined to do the best we can for our various market towns and to suggest I have no interest in Haverhill is preposterous,” he said.
“I want to see Haverhill prosper.”
There was much anger directed at chairman and St Edmundsbury mayor Tim Marks after he drew the questions to a close with several people in the audience still keen to grill Cllr McGregor further.
“You’re a waste of space – you’re just not bothered and not interested,” raged one man.
Almost half of the public at the meeting left immediately after Cllr McGregor had finished.