Coming to a field near you? Well it is now!

After some four years in the making, the Local Plan of Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) is now in its final stages. The Planning Inspector tasked at looking at the Plan has made her comments and the Council has now invited its residents and interested parties to comment on these changes by 23 September.

Why is this of interest I might hear you ask? Well, with the agreement of Harlow District Council (HDC) this Plan proposes to allow the building of over 3000 homes to the East of Old Harlow, 1000 to the south (called Latton Priory) and over 3000 to the west of Sumners and Katherines, on what is effectively Harlow’s Green Belt.

Work on at least two of these sites is likely to start in 2023. During the following 10 years, new schools, shops and leisure facilities will be built to create new communities.

The key points The Harlow Alliance Party have made in response to this Plan are:

  • These homes are not in Harlow, despite in some cases being literally just over a hedge from homes in the town. As a result residents in Harlow have not been consulted about these plans.
  • These homes are being built on what is effectively Harlow’s Green Belt. Despite this, decisions about the future of this land is being made by EFDC when they should be made by Councillors in Harlow.
  • All the New Homes Bonus, business rates and Council Tax will be paid to EFDC. They will reap the financial benefit from these new homes whilst Harlow Council will get nothing.
  • There will not be a single Council home built to address the real housing need in the area, those who will never be able to afford to buy a home.
  • Whatever steps are taken, there will be a huge increase in traffic on Harlow’s roads, such as Rye Hill Road, Paringdon Road and Southern Way. No account has been taken of the extra noise and pollution which will be experienced by residents living in Harlow although much was made of the effect the increase in pollution will have on Epping Forest.
  • New Planning Applications (called windfall sites) will mean that 3000 more homes will be built in Harlow than required by Government. Recent reduced estimates of the growth in household numbers and immigration into the UK in the coming decade show that the number of new homes needed is far lower that was thought even just a few years ago. EFDC have ignored this evidence. Quite simply, there is no need to build new homes on Harlow’s East, South and Western borders.
  • No account of these windfall sites has been taken into account by those providing public services such as school places and health services. This can only mean they will be stretched even further than they are now.

None of our political representatives, whether Conservative or Labour objected to these plans whilst the Planning Inspector looked at the proposals. Only the Harlow Alliance Party did so and participated in the examination hearings that took place in 2019.

At HDC’s Full Council meeting on 15 July, Cllr Andrew Johnson launched a new initiative when he formally invited residents and others to give him their ideas for improving Harlow in the future

You may care to ask him when and how HDC intends to explain to residents of the town the consequences of the EFDC Local Plan on Harlow and share with him any concerns you may have by emailing him at andrew.johnson@harlow.gov.uk

Harlow and Gilston Garden Town

Many readers will know that Green Belt land to the North of Harlow has long been proposed as a site for a huge new housing development, owned by several organisations who hoped that in due course permission would be given to develop the site.

Some four years ago agreement was reached by three District Councils, Harlow, Epping Forest and East Herts and two County Councils, Essex and Hertfordshire to form a consortium which effectively created The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town. In the next couple of decades thousands of homes will be built  on Green Belt land to the North, South and West of Harlow.

The Harlow Alliance Party was the only Party to object to these plans as they stand. We believed at the outset that decisions about the future of an extended town should be made in the Council chamber in Harlow and not in Epping and Hertford. In order to achieve this, District and County boundaries should have been changed so that residents living in the expanded town would receive services from just one District Council and one County Council. In due course, Harlow Council should seek to create what is known as a unitary authority, from which all public services would be provided. As it is, services will be provided by five Councils, each with their own priorities and funding streams.

Without such a change, residents in each District have been consulted about parts of the plan which affect them in different ways and at different times. Epping Forest DC had no legal obligation to consult residents in Harlow about their plan to allow thousands of homes to be built just over the garden fence of homes in Harlow and East Herts had no legal obligation to consult with residents about their plans and how it would affect those living in Harlow. It has recently been acknowledged that Harlow Council can at best only influence what is happening to the land to the North of the town.

The plan to create a new river crossing from the A414 to Riverway and creating a metro system from the Gilston development to the town centre and on to Latton Priory to the south of Harlow is just part of a scheme primarily designed to benefit the residents of these new homes, where the aim is to get 60% of journeys being taken by bus, cycle and walking. At best they will help to ensure that traffic congestion in Harlow does not get as bad as it could be, it is a simple fact that with the population of the area expected to increase by about 50% in the next 20 years the roads in Harlow will become congested like never before.

The outcry from residents about the plan to construct the new road over the river is likely to be the first of many which will be heard from those of us who already live here. The Harlow Alliance Party urges residents to sign the petition objecting to the building of a new road across the River Stort, this can be found at:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/we-oppose-the-central-and-eastern-river-crossing-for-harlow-and-gilston-town

The future of Harlow Town Centre

Harlow’s town centre has been in decline for many years. Hundreds of office jobs have been lost, the offices have been converted into very small flats unsuitable for families, the number of vacant shops has increased, buildings have suffered from a lack of maintenance and attempts to increase footfall in the evening have largely failed.

In the last couple of years Planning Permission has been given to open food shops near Edinburgh Way and for the building of 1,400 flats in the town centre. Another 550 are planned for the hospital site. Harlow’s Labour controlled Council seem to think that replacing shops which have one storey above them with shops with ten storeys above them bringing hundreds of families living in the town centre will in itself help regenerate the town’s centre back into the vibrant shopping centre that it once was.

The Council’s recent failed bid to the Government for millions of pounds clearly lacked vision and ambition, as did wasting over £250,000 on “refurbishing” Market Square just a few years ago. What would the Conservative Party have done any differently? Well, who knows. Apart from criticising the Labour proposals, they have not yet come up with any alternatives themselves.

By accessing millions of pounds, Harlow Council now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a vibrant town centre again. We believe that only the Harlow Alliance Party have the vision to do so. Unlike Basildon and Stevenage, Harlow does not have a leisure park, where numerous leisure facilities and restaurents are in close proximity to each other. HAP believe that adding more cultural and leisure facilities to those already in the town centre, should be at the heart of it’s modernisation programme.

HAP believe this could be achieved by:

  • The purchase of Market House, the area to the north of it and the post office premises nearby replacing them with a new (1000-seater) theatre, live music and exhibition centre on the site.
  • Turning the Post Office car park into an electric car charging hub with hundreds of charging points.
  • Demolishing part of the library to “open out” Broadwalk into the Water Gardens and locating a new library in premises facing Market Square.
  • Landscaping Market Square on similar lines to the Water Gardens.
  • Creating an enclosed roof over Broadwalk. Designers of adjacent buildings would need to incorporate the roof into their plans.
  • Improve all of the pedestrian access points in and out of the town centre.
  • Investigate the creation of an indoor market, using the markets at Chelmsford and Stevenage as a blue print.
  • Build a new bus station, creating a better pedestrian access to the ground floor of Terminus House and the new building which is to be built next to it.

Budget blow for Harlow Council

Tucked away in the Chancellors Budget this week was the announcement that £1 billion from the Governments “Towns Fund” was to be distributed to 45 towns around the country in order to help them kick start regeneration.

After a lengthy process using a whole host of criteria whilst looking at  541 towns in 2020, the list of towns was whittled down to 101, including Harlow.

Regular readers of yourharlow will be aware that Harlow Council has put a lot in store in their bid for a sum of up to £25 million from this “Towns Fund”. It is most unfortunate to have to report that Harlow Council’s bid was not successful. Accusations have been made that preferential treatment has been given to areas with a Conservative MP but this clearly did not help Harlow’s case. Following on from the recent footsteps of the Council’s failed bid for £10 million from another Government fund, it is quite clear that the present administration aided by the Conservatives are clearly not doing enough to convince others of their vision for the future of the town centre.

Only last week Harlow Council was presented with a report to support the proposal to put £5 million of borrowed money into a £50 million regeneration pot of money.  However it was lacking in specific proposals for the future of the Town Centre, other than to say more homes were needed as well as leisure and shopping opportunities. The Harlow Alliance Party believe that this lack of specific proposals is at the heart of why the two recent bids failed.

You might have expected that the local Tories would be bemoaning this lost opportunity, but of course they have “signed up” to the same lack of specific proposals set out in this latest bid. Only the Harlow Alliance Party have set out a clear vision for the regeneration of the town centre. This includes the Council purchasing Market House and the land to the north of it, replacing it with a new 1000 seat theatre, exhibition centre and live music venue, turning the Post Office carpark into a large charging hub for electric vehicles, enclosing Broadwalk, creating space for a new library facing Market Square and improving the pedestrian access points into the town centre.

Epping Forest congestion charge

The recent headline in the Guardian “Charging drivers a planning necessity” and the accompanying article are I am afraid both factually wrong and continue to perpetuate the stance being taken by Epping Forest District Council (EFDC).

EFDC’s Local Plan is required to deliver 11,400 homes within the next decade or so. However they have chosen to ignore the most recent predictions from the Office of National Statistics that the number of new households created in the future has decreased significantly, the percentage increase in the UK’S population is set to drop when compared with the last decade and Harlow will have 3,000 more homes built than the target Harlow District Council (HDC) has been set by the Government. Threats by the Government that target numbers will be increased to nearly 21,000 homes if EFDC do not create a Local Plan clearly demonstrate that these Plans are nothing to do with the number of new homes which are actually needed, but are all about increasing the profits of house builders and land speculators.

So why would EFDC choose to ignore the fact that the number of new homes required is not as high as it had been thought in the past? The answer is money. The Government pay councils what is known as a “New Homes Bonus” when they allow homes to be built in their district. When plans were first published by the developers for the area known as Latton Priory (on the border of Harlow) it was stated that the 1,050 homes would generate a bonus payment to EFDC of £25 million. Whilst we know these payments are not as generous as they once were, allowing 11,400 homes to be built in the district will raise a huge sum to shore up the Council’s finances. On top of this the Council now expect those travelling through the forest to have to pay for the privilege.

The Harlow Alliance Party is the only Party to object to the Local Plans of EFDC and HDC. Major infrastructure is needed as a prelude to any large scale increase in homes in the area, to include a northern and southern by-pass for Harlow and access to the north from the M11 at Loughton, giving amongst other things easier access to the M25 and the new hospital being built at junction 7a at Harlow. An extension to the Oyster card scheme to include the two rail stations in Harlow so that fares to London become comparable with those from Epping and Debden on the tube would reduce the number of commuters travelling through the forest from the north to these two stations.

Until councils in the region start working together, EFDC cannot on it’s own hope to mitigate the damage being caused to Epping Forest.

Harlow Council tax rise

The annual bun fight between Harlow’s Labour administration and the Conservative opposition was fought out at Harlow Council’s budget setting meeting last week. The introduction of Zoom to these meetings means that for many residents this is the first time they have had an opportunity to see just what goes on at this budget setting meeting.

If ever there was any doubt for the need of an independent party, one not bound by the politics of Westminster, then watching the recording of this meeting should dispel any such doubts.

This meeting could have been concluded within an hour, Labour produced a budget, the Conservatives an alternative, votes taken, meeting concluded. Instead of this our elected representatives had to “play to the camera” by laughing at comments made, hand clapping, taking a “we know best attitude” and lacking in any sense of respect for someone having a different view to theirs.

On the one hand, as Cllr Ingall said, the Conservative’s alternative budget mirrored Labour’s to the tune of 97%, on the other hand the Conservative proposals had been checked by council officers and found to be sound. The comments made about the Conservatives at County Hall increasing their share of the council tax by a bigger percentage than that proposed by Labour at Harlow Council might remind one of the old adage that “two wrongs do not make a right”.

Without the benefit of advice from officers at Harlow Council, it is difficult to say on which side The Harlow Alliance Party would have voted if we had councillors in the council chamber. At the very least we would have tried to bring both sides together before the meeting took place to put together a budget which all councillors could agree to sign up to so that residents could be spared from having to see our elected representatives shown in such bad light.

Congestion charge to drive into Epping Forest?

Readers will know that Harlow Council recently adopted it’s Local Plan, but what of Conservative controlled Epping Forest District Council’s (EFDC) Plan?

The Planning Inspector examining the Plan has long had concerns about what effect the building of thousands of new homes and a huge increase in the number of vehicles on roads in the area will have on Epping Forest. EFDC have now adopted an Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy which sets how it can address the Planning Inspectors concerns. It has to be said that much of what is in the strategy relies on issues outside the control of EFDC such as hoping for an increase in the use of electric vehicles and takes no account of the effect some of these measures may have on Harlow and it’s residents.

Controversially, the EFDC strategy will look to introduce a congestion charge system similar to that used in London, for vehicles being driven in or through a zone drawn around the forest. This may well lead to more traffic on Harlow’s roads as drivers try to avoid driving in the forest and having to pay to do so.

The Harlow Alliance Party (HAP) believe that this document is yet another example of  politicians in the region not working together and  ignoring research showing that the number of homes needed in the next decade is far less than was envisaged only a few years ago. Building thousands of homes on the Green Belt just outside of Harlow’s border is simply not needed, their deletion from the EFDC Local Plan would at a stroke make a substantial reduction in pollution levels in both Harlow and Epping.

HAP suggest that politicians should be looking collectively at the wider picture. For example extending the Oyster card system to include Harlow railway station would level up the fares with those on the London Tube service, resulting in less cars being driven into Epping from Harlow and removing the need for the Labour group’s fanciful idea of building a costly metro system to Epping Tube Station.

A further suggestion would be to construct an access road leading north onto the M11 at Loughton which would give direct access to the M25 and to Harlow’s new hospital at Junction 7A, reducing the need to drive through the forest and Harlow.

Harlow fails to secure regeneration funding

It came as no surprise to The Harlow Alliance Party (HAP) that Harlow Council’s bid for money to help regenerate Harlow’s town centre failed at the second hurdle. The purpose of this government funding is to “Help these areas transform their High Street into vibrant hubs for future generations and to protect and create thousands of jobs”.

Seventy two towns did receive such funding, including Tamworth Borough Council whose Councillor Jeremy Oates is quoted as saying “The project couldn’t just  be a case of smartening up an outdoor space or adding hanging baskets, the government was looking for changes on a large transformative scale in a way that recognises the changing role of the town centre and enables it to survive and thrive”.

Harlow Council’s bid clearly did not meet these objectives and together with the dismal improvements to Market Square, which cost £272,000 and trees costing £10,000 give other clues to why Harlow’s bid failed. In his recent interview, Cllr Charles seems to indicate that he supported the proposals for the area in front of The Playhouse but then goes on to bemoan the fact that the bid failed. We are not aware that any concerns about the content of the bid were made by the Conservative group on the council before the bid was submitted. The submission included moving the taxi rank from outside The Playhouse and putting it into College Square and building a block of flats on the green space opposite The Playhouse. HAP believe this would never by itself have enhanced the shopping or leisure experience of those visiting the town centre.

Some of our political opponents suggest that HAP lack any ambition or vision for the future of the town. We would point out that HAP said at the outset that the bid should include:

Every entrance to the town centre should be enhanced to create a more inviting gateway to the shopping and leisure facilities within.The area in front of The Playhouse, including the taxi rank and the area from the external staircase of the Harvey Centre leading to The Playhouse entrance should be roofed and well lit. The grassed area should be better utilised to include seating and shrubs/flower beds. Relocating the library and demolishing the front part of the building would open up The Water Gardens into Broadwalk. Demolishing part of the former Post Office building and the building in Market square would create a better and more inviting access into Market Square from it’s northern entrances, the square being turned into a feature similar to the southern approach to The Water Gardens.

An exhibition centre should be included on the ground floor of one of the new apartment blocks being built where events such as toy fairs, vintage car shows, model railway exhibitions, modern modified car shows, a Christmas fair, an exhibition for voluntary and other local organisation to advertise what they provide and many more, would bring more visitors to the town centre.

Room for an indoor market, subject to discussions with possible traders should be investigated. A trip to Chelmsford’s indoor market would give clues as to how this could work.

HAP’s residents survey at the beginning of 2020 revealed considerable support for the proposal to roof over Broad Walk. The proposed new transport corridors includes the the creation of a new road for public transport, running along the front of Market Square, a drop off and collection point here in front of a roofed Broadwalk would bring visitors into the northern part of the town centre.

And what of the future? Well unless those running Harlow Council become more imaginative about the future of Harlow’s town centre, it is most unlikely that sufficient monies will be found to carry out the badly needed regeneration.

The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town

If anyone had any doubts about how badly the Labour administration in Harlow is running the council and how ineffective the Conservative group have become in recent years readers should take a look at the film of Harlow Council’s Development Management Committee Meeting of 16 December on it’s YouTube channel.

As a back drop, one should remember that our MP has been the “champion” of an enlarged Harlow, supported by Conservative councillors in Harlow and those at East Herts DC and Hertfordshire CC. Harlow’s Labour Council signed up to work with the these Councils and that of Epping Forest to create “The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town“, which will see the population in the town increase from it’s present 90,000 to over 140,000 in the next 20 years or so.

Since it’s inception, The Harlow Alliance Party have argued the case that the creation of such a Garden Town should at the outset have included a change in the town’s and the county boundaries so that the whole physical area in question came within just one council area, namely Harlow. Residents would then have been consulted and kept informed of progress across the whole area in the same way and at the same time and decisions about the future of the town would be made by politicians representing residents in this town and not by ones living up to 15 miles away and in Council offices in Epping and Hertford. Any attempt to create an integrated community where services will be provided by five councils, each with their own political priorities will never work, especially as the nearest houses in Harlow will be over half a mile away from those on the new Gilston estate. The reason why these other authorities would resist such changes to the boundary is of course money. The government gives money to a council when it gives permission for homes to be built. This money together with the council tax paid by residents of these new homes will all go to these other councils and not benefit either Harlow Council or Essex County Council.

Harlow Council now finds itself at best merely being able to influence what is going on at Gilston despite the effect these changes will have on residents who already live in Harlow. Having worked with these other councils and Places for People (a Housing Association) for some years now, it comes as a shock to find that it is only at this late stage as Outline Planning is being sought that Labour and Conservative councillors have publicly raised concerns.

These concerns include: who and how new transport and other infrastructure proposals will be paid for, when such work will be constructed, the lack of a commitment to those on Harlow Council’s housing waiting list that they will be nominated for some of the new affordable homes being built and at the real heart of the matter, what benefit Harlow and it’s residents will see as a result of such an expansion of the town.

The residents of Harlow have been let down by the Labour administration at Harlow Council and the Conservatives have had to be muted in their response to this plan. Whilst thousands of people will be living on nice new estates ringing Harlow, those of us already living here now face years of disruption as new transport corridors are built, more heavily congested roads and more pressure on doctors surgeries and at the hospital, without seeing any benefits at the end of the next twenty year period.

The Harlow Alliance Party’s response to Harlow Council’s Local Plan.

Harlow Council have agreed to adopt it’s Local Plan after many years in the making, during which time it had to make hundreds of ammendments to the first submission. One of the key changes was the deletion of seven sites earmarked for housing development, due solely to the representations made by The Harlow Alliance Party to the Planning Inspector who was employed by the government to scrutinise the Plan.

The animosity shown by members of the two policial parties, evidenced throughout the debate came to a head when Labour Councillors voted to adopt the Plan and the Conservatives Councillors voted against it.

From the outset, The Harlow Alliance Party objected to how the Plan was constructed, how it was consulted upon and some of what it proposed. Our objections can be summarised as follows:

The latest projections for the number of new households being created show a continuing steep decline in recent years and there is a slowdown in the yearly increase in the UK’s population. This means that councils around the country including Harlow do not need to allow so many homes to be built in their area. Despite this, together with Planning Applications coming forward which are not included in the Plan, Harlow Council have now agreed that 3,000 more homes will be built in Harlow than what the government has set as a target.

The extended town, known as The Harlow and Gilston Garden Town will be administered by three District councils and two county councils. We do not believe this is sustainable, either politically or when trying to create what will effectively be a new, bigger community.

Consultation with residents about this Plan has been woeful throughout. Whilst the council said that it met all legal requirements, it is clear that relying almost solely on social media meant that very few residents had any idea of what was being planned. The Harlow Alliance Party was the only Party to hold public meetings on this subject, one Labour councillor saying publically that more consultation with residents would not have made any difference to the outcome.

The deletion of seven sites from the Council’s Plan demonstrates that the Plan was not properly prepared. There are other sites which could easily have been developed but the Council still went on to choose some sites which should never have appeared on the Plan.

Nearly 14,000 homes will be built in and around Harlow increasing the population of the area from it’s present 90,000 to around 150,000. Despite this, few if any plans are in place to mitigate the huge increase in the amount of traffic that will be on Harlow’s roads. Experience elsewhere shows that unless alternatives to using a car are in place before homes are built, residents will not subsequently reduce their reliance on the use of a car by taking a bus, using a bike or by walking.

The council tax paid by the residents of the thousands of homes over the other side of Harlow’s borders will of course be paid to Epping Forest and East Herts Councl’s and will do nothing to help with the financial prospects of Harlow Council and it’s ability to continue to provide services such as The Playhouse and Pets Corner and in the case of Hertfordshire County Council, Harlow’s roads.

Labour Councillors have promoted this Plan by saying that building all these homes will help those on it’s housing waiting list. The pitiful number of so called ”affordable homes” will do nothing to help those who are unable to buy a home, evidenced by the fact that collectively thousands of families are on the housing waiting list of the three District Councils. Less than 500 council homes will be built in Harlow in the next 12 years. The council have lost over 600 homes in the last 8 years so there will be less council homes at the end of the Plan period than there were 8 years ago.

At the end of this Plan’s term period in 2033, Harlow will be ringed by housing estates in the Epping and East Herts District. If Harlow Council are then required by government to allow the building of more homes in the future the only way this will be achieved is by building on some of the green open spaces within Harlow which residents currently enjoy.

Harlow’s Plan cannot of course be taken in isolation. It is closely linked to that of Epping Forest DC which proposes to destroy many hundreds of acres of valuable Green Belt land including greenhouses in order to create an extended Harlow, just at a time when the UK should be increasing it’s own food production.