Town Centre Public Consultation

The development company looking to redevelop the part of Harlow town centre which it owns has now commenced a public consultation exercise about it’s proposals. The link to this consultation can be found at www.strawberrystarharlow.co.uk

Whilst there is not a lot of detail provided about the proposals it does at least give a chance for residents to have a say on the matter. The original proposal was to build some 500 homes on this site, but this has now been increased to about 900.

In addition to these proposals, other developers have or are likely to get Planning Permission for new homes to be built at Wych Elm, on Kitson Way car park, on part of Terminus Street car park, on a site opposite The Playhouse, the conversion of Market House and a new block to the rear of Market House, totalling some 500 new homes. The relocation of the hospital in some 5 years time will see about 500 homes built on the present site.

It is clear that using Brownfield sites is a much better way of providing new homes compared with building on the Green Belt and other green sites. However HAP is dissappointed to note that Harlow Council are willing to agree to the building of developments which do not meet it’s own target of 30% of the new homes being what is known as “affordable homes”, particularly ones for rent. A further concern is the lack of play space for children living in these new homes, developers should at the outset give a clear indication of where such space will be provided.

Whilst new homes are of course to be welcomed, at it’s heart the proposed redevelopment of the town centre must surely ensure that the outcome is an enhanced shopping and leisure experience compared to what there is now otherwise it’s decline as a “go to” shopping centre will continue.

HAP sends a second letter to the Planning Inspector looking at EFDC’S Local Plan

You might have thought that having written only last month about Epping Forest DC (EFDC’s) response to the ONS predictions on future household numbers that I would not need to write again.

However, in the parallel world outside of the Local Plan, developers to their credit have continued to look for brown field sites in Harlow on which to build homes. Taken in isolation this may not be seen as important as far as the Local Plan of EFDC is concerned, but as we know, part of their Local Plan forms one part of The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, meaning that as things stand residents of this town will be receiving services from three District Councils and two County Councils.

At the time of the hearings of Harlow District Council’s (HDC) Local Plan in 2019, an uplift of some 14% (about 1600 homes) was being reported, one of the highest percentages in the country. Within months, if not weeks, new Planning Applications had taken this to over 2000 homes.

Events since I last wrote have prompted me to write again, because a number of significant Planning Applications are or have been forthcoming, joining those made earlier in the year. These have added a further 1069 homes, none of which are in Harlow Council’s Local Plan.

Most are in the town centre, and are seen as a way to provide a more modern and vibrant town centre and to reduce the reliance on the use of a car. There is no doubt that more Planning Applications on brown field sites are on their way.

The infrastructure proposals in the EFDC Local Plan as they affect Harlow, do not take any account of this huge excess in the number of homes which may well be built in Harlow and just for example the effect such numbers may have on Epping Forest.

By way of a conclusion, there is simply no need to build homes on the Green Belt surrounding Harlow, a sufficient numbers of homes within the borders of The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town have already been identified.

Nicholas Taylor
Leader of Harlow Alliance Party

HAP Response to Epping Forest DC Plan

Below is the letter that was recently sent by HAP to the Government Inspector of the EFDC plan. The Government Inspector wrote to Epping Forest DC about their plan on 14th July, Epping Forest did not reply until September 4th, and then took yet another 3 weeks before their reply was made public on their website.

From the outset the Harlow Alliance Party took the view that those parts of the Local Plans of Epping Forest DC (EFDC), Harlow DC (HDC) and East Herts forming The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town should have been produced in one single Plan for the area. Each could then have consulted residents across the whole district at the same time and in the same way, without any conflict of interest. The outcome of not doing this has resulted in mixed messages, conflicting information about infrastructure requirements for an enlarged Harlow and each taking action in the meantime for the benefit of their own district to the detriment of others such as HDC’s plan for a tramway running from Gilston through Harlow and North Weald and on to Epping Tube Station and EFDC’s plan to redevelop parts of Epping.

The Government have recently indicated that they would like to see a reorganisation of Local Government, reducing the number but increasing the size of Local Authorities. We believe that by removing the sites from around Harlow from this Plan would give the opportunity to seek boundary changes, bringing into HDC’s boundary the Green Belt surrounding the town (which consists mostly of farm land), ensuring that it’s future is decided by the elected representatives of Harlow’s residents and not those of EFDC who in many cases live many miles away.

At the heart of the matter now is the fact that like HDC, EFDC’s document which runs to 27 pages gives predictions about future trends any of which could be affected by an infinite number of changes within society and concludes by saying that there is no need to make a single change to the proposals laid out in their Local Plan.

We would like to provide you with the following information, which leads us to the contrary view that thousands of new homes do not need to be built on (Harlow’s) Green Belt surrounding the town:

The predicted growth in the number of new households being created has continued a downward spiral since 2012, not just a few percentage points but a dramatic decline of over 50%. We note that other Planning Inspectors are questioning and rejecting Local Plans in other parts of the country where Local Authorities continue to ignore this downward trend at the expense of the Green Belt.

At point 2.4 in The Epping Forest District Draft Plan of October 2016 it states that the population in the EFDC district has only increased by 17,000 in the 50 year period 1961 to 2011. The population of an area will only see significant increases when more homes are built, evidenced by the fact that since 2011 the population has grown by another 5000, due in the main to house building programmes already undertaken and the migration of people moving into the area from London

Most significantly, based on recent facts, in 2009 the population of the UK increased by 0.87%, the highest for many years. In the period 2016 to 2020 the increase averaged 0.63 per year. The figure for the period 2020 to 2025 is predicted by the Government to fall to 0.51% and in the years 2025 to 2030 to just 0.43%. With a new points based immigration system on the horizon, these figures are likely to fall even further. It is no coincidence that the 50% reduction in the yearly increase in the population mirrors the decline in the number of new households being predicted by the ONS.

There is no evidence provided that this Plan will address the acute housing need of a larger elderly population. Nationally there were 387,000 people in the UK over the age of 90 in 2002 but as at 2019 this figure had risen to 605,000. In the EFDC area the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to increase by 20% within the next five years. Very few of the homes being built in the area in recent years have been specifically designed for residents in this age group and with so few homes being built by the public sector, the real housing need is not being met by housebuilders who are just looking for profits.

The world of business has changed for ever as a result of Covid. Who would have thought in January 2020 let alone when this Plan was first published how the rest of the year and beyond would pan out. On-line shopping and working from home mean that for an increasing number of people it is no longer necessary for them to live near their work or shop. We have made the case to the Planning Inspector of the Harlow Local Plan that simply building a large number of homes will do nothing to regenerate Harlow by itself. EFDC’s plan to build a new leisure centre, shops and cinema in Epping gives even less confidence that building more homes in the EFDC area within The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town will help regenerate Harlow.

In conclusion, to ignore the evidence about the increase in household numbers is an error of judgement, building on Green Belt is a one off, once lost, always lost.

Princess Alexandra Hospital needs your help

As part of the Trust’s plans to build a brand new hospital on a greenfield site by 2025, they are undertaking an ambitious engagement plan to make sure they effectively reach everyone who uses, visits or works at the hospital.

At a recent voluntary sector forum held by the communications team a discussion took place about how the Trust can work collaboratively with the hospital team to make sure all our community feel involved in the design and progress of the new hospital, especially our hard to reach and vulnerable groups.

The team would like to know:

  • Whether you would be happy to receive ready-to-use slide decks from time to time so that you could facilitate short, focused engagement with your community groups on the Trusts behalf.
  • Whether you have existing communication channels (such as social media) that you would be happy to recieve updates on the new hospitals progress.
  • Whether there are any particular issues you can foresee from within your community group so the team can plan targeted engagement to help address these concerns.
  • Any other ideas you have to make sure the communication and engagement is regular, effective and inclusive.

For more information please feel free to contact:

Jill.hogan@nhs.net

Ruth.keeler1@nhs.net

You can also follow progress on the hospital microsite and social media:

https://www.pah.nhs.uk/newhospital

facebook@NHSharlow

twitter@NHSHarlow

Update on the play area between Bushey Croft and Rushes Mead

In 2018 both Labour and Conservative Councillors agreed to build 16 houses on the area between these two estates despite objections from nearly 200 residents and The Harlow Alliance Party.

Since then, residents have been wondering why there has been a delay in constructing these homes, which was due to be commenced in the summer of 2019.

This land was never intended for homes to be built on and the Council needed to get this change of use for the land agreed by The Secretary of State.  As a prelude to using the legislation required to make this change the council needed to show that they had consulted with residents. It transpires that they did, commencing on 9 January 2020, with a closing date for responses of 7 February.

It is clear that knowing residents would object to this change the Council decided not write to residents living nearby but instead gave notice of the proposed change by:

  • Putting a notice up in the Civic Offices for two weeks.
  • Putting a notice on it’s website.
  • Advertising it in the Epping Forest Guardian for two weeks.
  • Advising the Harlow Allotment Society.

HAP do not think this is good enough, as it is not likely that any of the residents affected by this change would have seen such publicity and therefore never had an opportunity to voice their views.

No wonder the Council never received any objections!

Harlow Council hell bent on destroying the Green Belt.

Despite the huge reduction shown in the latest statistics from the Office of National Statistics about the number of new households required to be built in and around the town, Harlow Council have chosen to ignore these figures and have decided to continue with the joint Plans of Harlow, Epping and East Herts to expand the town and allow the building of thousands of homes during the next decade on huge swathes of Green Belt land on Harlow’s borders.

The Government appointed Planning Inspector of the proposed Plans of Harlow and Epping Councils recently wrote to each Council pointing out that the most recent statistics showed that less than half of the proposed new homes need to be built and asked them to explain why they thought that the green belt should be built on.

Harlow Council has responded to the Planning Inspector saying that they wish to forge ahead with their Plan, which as part of The Harlow and Gilston Town Plan will see much of the land surrounding Harlow being built on.

The Harlow Alliance Party are the only Party which have formally objected to these Plans in the past and is therefore the only Party which is being consulted about the new statistical information and the council’s response. It is clear that very few of these new homes will be available to those most in housing need who will never be able to afford a new home or will be homes which older residents would be prepared to downsize to, releasing their homes for larger families.

We believe that every home that Harlow Council build in the next 10 years should make best use of the resources available and build bungalows and other accommodation suitable for older residents,  freeing up larger council homes which would then be occupied by families on Harlow Council’s Housing Register. It is now clear that these Plans are all about housing greed (on the part of house builders and property investors) not about housing need

Local Housing Plans do not add up

A letter sent to Epping Forest DC on 14 July and  to Harlow DC on 17 July by the Independent Inspectors of the proposed Local Plans should have sent shock waves to both Councillors and officers at each council because they throw into doubt the validity of their claims for the need to build thousands of homes in the area.

The Inspectors have drawn to the attention of each council the fact that the latest projection by the Office of National Statistics indicates that instead of Epping needing to plan for an extra 14,374 homes in the period 2011 to 2033 based on household projections in 2014, only 6,616 are needed based on these new 2018 projections. In Harlow’s case the 2014 figure indicated that 7,653 needed to be built but the 2018 projection was just 3,094.

This change is hugely important because the Inspector has to take this new information into account as part of “the exceptional circumstances” required to justify the deletion of land from the Green Belt.

In Harlow’s case, their Local Plan already had what is known as an ‘uplift’ of 14%, that is, plans for some 1600 more homes than are needed based on the earlier projections.

Epping DC had until 31 July to respond to the Inspectors letter, Harlow DC until 7 August. Depending on the response, both Inspectors have said they may carry out further consultation with those who have previously participated in the examination. Neither the Labour or Conservative Party have participated before, only The Harlow Alliance Party have done so, meaning we are the only Party who will be able to comment. It will be interesting to see how politicians from the other Parties and indeed the two councils react.

Since it’s inception in January 2018 The Harlow Alliance Parties position has always been that the area of Green Belt  around Harlow should not be built on.

Harlow and Gilston Garden Town

What is it?

This forms part of the Local Plans of Harlow DC (HDC), East Herts DC (EHDC) and Epping Forest DC (EFDC) and Essex County Council (ECC) which will see a huge increase in the number of homes in and around Harlow, together with the building of shops, restaurants, leisure facilities, new business premises, schools, doctors surgeries and infrastructure improvements. A total of 23,000 homes will eventually be built. Those in the Gilston area will  be built by creating 7 new ‘villages’ (Just as Church Langley was ‘sold’ to Planners and house purchasers?)

There are a number of ‘Garden Towns’ being created across the country, backed by the Government in the form of financial and ‘moral’ support. A group called ‘Stop Harlow North’ have been campaigning for many years to stop this part of the development.

What is a Local Plan and why is it needed?

The increasing population has seen the need for new homes to be built. The Government requires all Local Authorities to produce a Local Plan, which sets out where and in what number new homes need to be built in their area and the infrastructure to go with it. The arrival of Public Health England to a site at The Pinnacles and other major new job opportunities coming to Harlow will require many new homes being built. The new Plans cover the period 2020 to 2031 and beyond.

Why have I not heard about all this before?

Despite agreeing to work together to come up with a creditable Plan some 4 years ago, this did not include how and when residents living across the three District Councils would be consulted. Whilst EFDC sent information to each household in their District and held exhibitions, HDC did not do this or even take the trouble to meet with many of the resident associations in the town. Neither EFDC nor EHDC have any legal obligation to consult the residents of Harlow about their Plans, which clearly affect all of us who live in Harlow. The Garden Town group have held exhibitions, but usually at short notice and with very little publicity.

You can find more information on the following links

HDC Local Plan link

EFDC Local Plan link

Harlow and Gilston Garden Town link

Where are we now?

The Government have given their backing to the large development to the North of Harlow, where some 10,000 homes will be built in the next 20 years and Planning permission is now being sought by EHDC. The Local Plan of HDC is in it’s final stages of completion, the Council are awaiting to hear from the Government appointed Inspector of the Plan, this is expected in July 2020.  EFDC are expected to hear about their Plan in the Autumn of 2020.

So what will be the outcome of these Plans if they are all agreed?

North of Harlow  …10,000 homes.

West of Katherines and Sumners …. 2000 homes.

South of Berecroft (known as Latton Priory) …. 1050 homes.

Old Harlow …. 2600 in Harlow and 750 just over the EFDC border.

Within the town … 1000 homes, 500 or so of which will be built on the site of the present hospital.

New schools, health centres, community buildings and more will be constructed as well. To put this in perspective, there are currently some 37,500 homes in Harlow.

What does ‘affordable housing’ mean?

The Plan for Harlow North states that 40% of homes will be ‘affordable’, The HDC Plan has a target of 30%.The term ‘Affordable housing’ is a term to describe homes that include:

Shared ownership: Where the purchaser has paid for only a percentage of the full value of the home and can buy the rest if they wish at a later date.

Rent to Buy: Is a scheme where a person pays a subsidised rent for a set period before having the option to either buy the property outright or with a shared ownershipscheme.

Discounted market sale: The home is sold at a discount leaving a sum to pay of up to 80% of the market value.

Starter homes: Discounted homes for those on a lower income, but few if any have ever been built

Affordable rentals: Where the rent is set at up to 80% of market rent levels.

Whether residents most in need of a home can afford such homes is open to debate.

What does the term ‘social housing’ mean?

Generally speaking this means that they are owned by either a council or Housing Association. Both can in principle build homes as described above.

How many of these 23,000 new homes will be ‘social housing’?

Of the 4,000 homes to be built just over Harlow’s border in the EFDC area, none are likely to be social housing, certainly none will be owned by EFDC.

Of the homes built in Harlow, at most just 500 will be owned by HDC.

Of those at Harlow North, it is difficult to predict just how many homes will be social housing in view of the 20 year time scale involved with the building programme.

PAH Board – Please Think Again

One of the outcomes of the recent survey carried out by The Harlow Alliance Party was that the vast majority of those commenting about the new hospital felt that the best location for a new hospital is on it’s present site. We are therefore  amazed to see the article produced by the hospital board that indicated they are now consulting with its patients on options for services at the site of the proposed new hospital. We ask why have they decided to consult now when they did not ask what patients, staff or anyone who uses the hospital what they thought about relocating the hospital out of Harlow?  Perhaps HAP are wrong in thinking they may be concerned of getting a result which did not match their own aspirations of building on a new site.

With the majority of the hospital patients living in Harlow and the surrounding area and a large number accessing the hospital in its present position via the A414, does it seem sensible to make them travel further to land outside Harlow?  The relocation site is not eco-friendly for transport to the site as the majority of patients are not able to use public transport due to age or disability. This location will do nothing but create pollution as patients have to use cars, taxi or public transport to get to treatment or visit their loved ones. This is further extenuated by the fact that a very high proportion of staff who reside in Harlow close to the hospital will now be forced to travel further to work. Many people who work or volunteer get to the hospital by the existing networks close to their local homes which enable them to use green travel by walking or cycling. This is not an option when the workplace is some 4 miles away.

Come on Hospital Board think again, use common sense and build a new hospital on the existing site.  It’s a lame excuse to suggest the cost will be more remaining where it is as all the services that will be needed are already in place. It has the added advantage of being able to support the mental health unit which is staying put. It’s just a logistics exercise to keep things running whilst reconstructing.

Has the hospital board taken account of the loss of footfall that will occur in the town when our town centre is struggling to survive? Relocation will be taking a way the people that use the town centre either as patients, staff or visitors. What hope have we of putting together a strategy to help the town rejuvenate?

One has to ask why is it that politicians and CEO’s make decisions without thinking or consulting the people they are going to affect. I wonder how many of those making decisions on our behalf live in Harlow and use the service of the PAH.

Alan Leverett
Deputy Leader
Harlow Alliance Party

Council Policy …… no longer worth the paper it is written on

Harlow Council’s Local Plan requires house builders to provide 30% of their new homes as ‘affordable’  in the hope that local people looking for a new home can afford to remain in the town. At the heart of any Local Plan is the requirement to assess what new homes are likely to be needed in the following decade or so and provide certainty to housebuilders as to what type and where homes can be built.

In late May, not for the first time, a developer looking to build homes on the former service bays at The Stow presented a scheme to the Planning Committee. The applicant stated that as the scheme stood, they were unable to build any affordable homes on the site and offered the Council £50,000 in exchange for relaxing this 30% requirement, money which it must be said the Council can only use to build new homes. This sum would build at best half a new home.

The scheme was accepted as it stood on a vote of 7 to 3, by Councillors from both Labour and Conservative

The same committee recently gave Planning Permission for the first of many new flat blocks proposed for the Town Centre, despite only 8% of the homes being ‘affordable’. Residents in Harlow desperate for a new home must be wondering when the Council will ever adhere to it’s own policy in respect of ensuring ‘affordable’ homes are built.

As a footnote, property investors are now being targeted by the builders of these new flats in the Town Centre, with starting prices for a bedsit of £199,000 rising to £399,000 for the largest homes. One can only guess what rents will be charged by these investors once the properties have been built. They will be out of reach for most local residents on an average Harlow wage.

The Harlow Alliance Party are the only Party who would tell potential house builders that unless they bring forward a scheme which meets the 30% affordable target, Planning Permission will not be given and that they should only come back with a scheme that does.