Your voice can to direct future of Huntingdonshire

THE future of Huntingdonshire is in your hands. Launched last week, Huntingdonshire Matters has a single aim – helping to make the district an even better place to live and work.

Scratch beneath the surface and what you’ll find is, in part, a massive consultation exercise to uncover the key issues, problems and challenges that people, groups, businesses and organisations are facing or expect to face. More than that, it wants to find solutions.

It is the first project of its kind for Huntingdonshire District Council – one of the key partners behind the scheme – and will be looking to get comments from as many people as possible as part of the first stage of the scheme.

The project will cover a vast array of topics – from issues about health, education, transport and employment to concerns about the local environment, housing and facilities for young people.

The consultation stage of Huntingdonshire Matters was launched last Wednesday at the district council offices in Huntingdon.

But this, as Manny Gatt explained at the launch, is a four-step scheme.

The managing director of Shared Services Architects, who has been brought in to help shape the project, said: “This is an agreement with the community and is not a one-off event. The underlying principles of Huntingdonshire Matters are that it needs to be evidence-based and that it has to be open and truly inclusive.”

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Between now and September, groups and individuals can come forward with the key issues that they think we face in Huntingdonshire.

On September 11 of this year, part two will begin – a conference that will look at the key issues and search for how they can be tackled.

Stage three will give the power to create solutions and visions for Huntingdonshire to working groups – experts and people with personal knowledge. The groups will meet again on November 13 with action plans for each of the issues.

“We want a vision for Huntingdonshire that we have co-created together,” Mr Gatt added.

But the scheme will work only if people are willing to get involved and lay bare the issues that need to be addressed in both the short and long term.

Councillor Nick Guyatt, HDC’s deputy leader, said: “We are asking people to be intimately involved with the process and want to engage with as many people as possible.

“Each person we talk to has a unique piece of information about Huntingdonshire. They all know something that we may need to know.”

One issue for the district – and indeed the country – is the ageing population. The 65-plus group is increasing, Malcolm Sharp, one of HDC’s managing directors, said. Other issues include rising unemployment, welfare reforms and the cost of housing.

“What first struck me when I came to Huntingdonshire was that there are certain needs that are hidden,” he said. “This seems to be true for unemployment. While we know our rate of unemployment is lower than the average, there are still 2,500 people seeking jobs and that’s 1,000 more than at the start of the economic downturn. When you add in the family members of these people, it becomes a significant amount of people that we care for.”

Mr Sharp added that buying a home was another key issue for many.

“It is very difficult to get into the housing market. The provision of affordable housing is not meeting the need and the average house is 5.1 times the average income.”

Then there are skills shortages and education needs – one fifth of 16 to 60-year-olds in the district have poor literacy skills and a similar proportion has poor numeracy skills.

There are also health issues for the district’s population.

Dr Ian Weller, of NHS Cambridgeshire, said there needed to be a lot more education around some key health issues.

“We need to establish the future health needs of this area and plan for that,” he added.

There are also key issues for planning for the future – where should new homes be built, how can Huntingdonshire cope with reducing C02 levels and provide sustainable transport?

Then there’s the A14 issue, job creation, protection of our high streets, career opportunities for young people, pressures on voluntary groups, public transport, provision of green spaces … and whatever else you believe is important for the future of Huntingdonshire.