Approval for Epping housing on Harlows borders edges ever closer

The Planning Inspector tasked with looking at the Local Development Plan (LDP) proposals of Epping Forest DC (EFDC) has now completed his work and effectively signed off the document. This should come as no surprise because many other Plans from across the Country have been completed despite flying in the face of opposition from residents.

The Planning Inspector has completely ignored the fact that following the creation of the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town in 2017 residents across the whole area should have been consulted in the same manner and at the same time. The three District Councils have worked closely together on many aspects of their Plan but in one important respect, that of consultation, they deliberately failed to do so, despite the effect the Plan will have on where residents live and work.

The Inspectors report notes at page 14 that much of the need for more homes is to take account of the increase in migration from London. The purpose of designating land as Green Belt was to stop urban sprawl. The EFDC LDP now strips this status from a huge swathe of land along three of Harlow’s borders in order to achieve the number of new homes required of it by Government, a number which has now effectively been dropped.

This matter is now in the hands of the 55 Councillors at EFDC who are due to vote on the matter early next month. The Harlow Alliance Party will continue to oppose this Plan. Back in October 2021 the Party wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities and will do so once again, supported by over 850 residents who have signed it’s petition in opposition to the Plan.

If you have not already done so you can join our opposition by signing the petition which can be found here.

Coming to a field near you… it is now!

Even though Epping Forest District Council have not yet finished their most recent consultation exercise with its residents about the final version of it’s Local Development Plan, the developers are pressing on with their plan to develop the Green Belt to the south of Harlow.

They have just begun a consultation exercise inviting residents to comment on the proposals to build at least 1050 homes, a school, shops, and other community facilities on the fields to the south of Berecroft, running eastwards to the edge of Corner Meadow and beyond.

The current Travellers site will be removed but replaced with three smaller sites and the only road leading into the whole site other than one proposed to come out on London Road to the south will be on to Rye Hill Road. The whole document can be found HERE.

Much has already been written about this proposal, the fact that it is in the Epping Forest District so Harlow Council will receive no financial benefit from taxes paid, there will be a huge increase in traffic on Harlow’s roads, the proposed transport corridor will cut a swathe through open spaces in Harlow and of course despite the close proximity to homes in Harlow and the fact that since 2017 we all now live in the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, we the existing residents have been given little if any notice of these proposals let alone invited to comment.   Added to this, new sites identified in Harlow where new homes will be built already number about 3000 more than the number required by the Government.

The Harlow Alliance Party was the only political Party in Harlow to object to these proposals when it really mattered, that is in 2019 when the Planning Inspector held her examination sessions in the Civic Offices in Epping. 

Our petition against these proposals has continued to see the number of residents who support our objections increase, the petition can be found HERE. If you have not already signed it, it is not too late!

What ever happened to Public Health Englands move to Harlow?

Back in 2017 the Government spent £25 million to buy the former GSK site at The Pinnacles in order to re-locate Public Health England to Harlow. This move was described as an important plank in the Councils Local Development Plan and strategic development of the town for the next 20 to 30 years. Cllr Ingall described it as probably the most important development in Harlow since Harlow existed.

Nothing has been heard of this planned move since the boss of the National Institute for Health Protection, which took over Public Heath England, said some fourteen months ago that she was going to review the decision to move to Harlow. Work on the site seems to have stopped many months ago and indeed its website describing this development has not been updated since July 2020.Has the massive hole in the Governments finances due to Covid and the Cost of Living Crisis finally seen the end of any plan to move to Harlow?

If this move does not take place it will fundamentally change the number of new homes needed in the Local Development Plans of all three Councils forming Harlow and Gilston Garden Town and this change will need to be at the heart of the review of Harlow Council’s Local Development Plan which intends to undertake in the coming months.

Is this what Harlow Council calls consultation?

Harlow Council’s dismal attempts to consult with residents continue despite the Community Engagement Strategy adopted by the Council earlier this year.

The Council recently completed its consultation about the future of The Playhouse Square. Cllr Swords reported that consultation had taken place with 55,000 residents and 130 stakeholders but who knew about this consultation? Did it appear in the Harlow Times, no, were Residents Associations asked to inform their members, no, was any information placed on the council owned notice boards dotted around the town, no, was the consultation document produced in any other language, no.

It comes as no surprise then that just 240 responses were received, and 499 comments made, at most just a 1.4% return from those consulted. It is clear that this has just been another tick box exercise carried out by the Council and far from the responses strengthening the Council’s bid as claimed by Cllr Swords, it might be the opposite.

The Council has clearly not learnt lessons from the past, we can only hope that if the bid to Government is successful, it undertakes a much better attempt to consult with residents before any money is spent on vanity projects.

Planning Application for Telecommunication Mast in Kingsmoor Road.

PLANNING APPLICATION HW/PNT/22/00258 requests permission to erect an imposing 5G mast on Kingsmoor Road, adjacent to 124 Greygoose Park

Harlow Council’s overriding concern should be for the welfare of local people and the natural world in which we live.

The installation of this mast would be an incompatible and unacceptable use of the land. All the facts show there is a huge risk to our health and the environment. There is a legal case underway being led by eminent barrister Michael Mansfield which is challenging the Government’s lack of proper risk assessment as well as their failure to protect public health, particularly children.”

This mast would be overbearing and unfitting to the surrounding area. There is evidence that the emissions from such masts are a pollutant which cause adverse health effects and it is known that radiation exposure levels within 500m of a mast increase the risk of neurological symptoms, headaches and loss of memory and learning capabilities, especially in children.

Industry has not produced a single study to show that 5G is safe or undertaken any risk assessment for effects on humans, wildlife and the environment for this laser-like beam forming technology.

For the above reasons the Harlow Alliance Party urged residents to object to this application and we are pleased to report that the Council refused permission for the erection of a mast in this location.

Harlow Alliance Party helps residents object to the demolition of Sherards House.

Harlow Council has submitted a Planning Application to demolish Sherards House which is situated along Thee Horseshoes Road and replace it with 14 homes on the site.

Some residents sought help from the Harlow Alliance Party to submit an objection to this plan, in due course some 60 objections were made to the Council.

The application follows in the footsteps of many property developers who leave an old building, in this case part of Harlow’s heritage, to fall into disrepair and then demolish it in order to cram new homes on the site.

This site is simply not suitable for such a development. It is ironic that just a few years ago a resident sought to build a home in their garden adjacent to this site, but was refused permission by the Council on the grounds of inadequate access, but now the Council propose to build ten homes using the very same access.

Sherards House should be renovated to provide modern homes for older residents with half a dozen or so bungalows built in the grounds. This would enable residents who occupy a home too large for their needs to move into a smaller home, freeing up homes which families on the Council’s Housing Register could move into.

Stort River Crossings – Harlow Alliance Party response

On Wednesday evening Harlow Councillors were asked to agree a scheme costing tens of millions of pounds, which many residents feel will be wasted. It is ironic that Politicians in this country condemn the actions of other Governments when they take decisions which destroy natural habitats and yet our Councillors were happy to support a scheme which does exactly that.

The river crossings will not add any extra capacity for car use, despite the fact that residents of the 10,000 homes being built to the North of the town are being encouraged to use facilities in Harlow. Instead bus lanes, enhanced paths and a cycle track will be constructed from Harlow Town Railway Station into the new development, and a new single carriageway with a path and cycle track will be built across the Stort Valley from Gilston to Riverway. Congestion on Harlows roads can only get worse as a result of these proposals. Vehicle manufacturers are spending millions of pounds to develop electric and driverless cars, any hope of a shift to public transport (buses) is simply wishful thinking.

The plan to develop land at Gilston is fundamentally flawed. There will not be any roads running to the North from the development, meaning residents and visitors will only be able to enter and exit using roads from the A414. The proposed development is nearly three times the size of Church Langley in terms of the number of homes to be constructed, we are all aware of the traffic congestion which can build up if any sort of road incident occurs on the A414. Without roads leading North, residents wishing to travel northwards will have to use a series of minor roads through nearby settlements such as High Wych and Sawbridgeworth, adding to the gridlock which already occurs on these roads

Members are elected to represent their constituents. Hundreds of residents objected to these Planning Applications and over 6000 signed a petition against them as well. If Harlow Council had taken a pro-active approach to consult with those of us living in the town, indeed if we had the benefit of Area Neighbourhood Plans, hundreds if not thousands more objections would have been received. A document produced by the developers of Harlow North called Community Engagement dated April 2019 set out details of the huge consultation exercise which was undertaken. Sadly very little consultation was carried out with those most affected, namely those of us who live in Harlow.

Evidence is now available which throws doubt on the Government’s target for the number of new homes required in each Council area, as a result many Councils in the South East are either throwing out or reviewing their Local Development Plan following increased opposition from residents concerned about the loss of Green Belt land. Councils have a duty to review these plans, It is a shame that Councillors at Harlow, East Herts and Epping Forest have until now not done so.

In conclusion, our elected representatives have sold us down the river (excuse the pun), Harlow gets no benefit from the construction of these river crossings, they are only being built to try and mitigate the effects of building 10,000 homes in the middle of a field.

Local Authorities Question Local Development Plans

The Harlow Alliance Party are hoping that hundreds of acres of Green Belt land in Essex will not end up being built on, taking heart from the actions of Councillors at Councils across Hertfordshire and Kent who are now throwing out such plans following opposition from thousands of residents they represent.

Just last month, Councillors at Hertsmere DC which planned to allow 9,000 homes to be built on its Green Belt, threw out its Local Development Plan following objections from 18,000 residents and similar action is being taken by Dacorum BC, St Albans DC and Welwyn and Hatfield BC.

It is reported that Councils in Kent are also questioning the need to meet targets set by Government to build hundreds of thousands of homes, when statistical information clearly shows that such numbers will not actually be needed in the future.

Furthermore, developers will often argue that they cannot build more so called affordable housing despite making billions of pounds of profit each year, which means that the housing need identified in the Plan within a district is not being met anyway.

Councillors at Epping Forest DC will soon be asked to agree to the final version of its Local Development Plan, which as things stand will see thousands of homes being built on the District’s Green Belt.  We can only hope that they will seize this opportunity to join with their fellow Councillors across the South East of England in rejecting this rush to develop land in and around towns and villages.

Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) Local Development Plan – December Update

What is set to be the final consultation exercise carried out by Epping Forest DC in respect of its Local Development Plan was concluded on 23 September.

The Council received 900 responses from residents, developers, other Councils and statutory bodies, far more than we believe they expected. As a result of this the Planning Inspector charged with looking at the Plan responded by saying that it would take some weeks to make his final response to the Plan.

Harlow Council made its objections to the building of homes around Harlow’s borders known to EFDC on the last day of the consultation, but it is our view that what they said was too little and some three years too late. Harlow Council have to date been a key player in the creation of the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, with the new homes to the South and West of Harlow forming an important part of the plan to turn Harlow into a city.

In the meantime, the Harlow Alliance Party has sent two letters to Michael Gove MP, supported by 700 residents who signed our petition, asking that he intervene in the local Plan process on the grounds that the lack of consultation with residents in Harlow, who of course are the most affected by some elements of the EFDC Plan, have not been consulted at any time during the last four years. At the time of writing we awaiting a response from the Minister.

Harlow Masterplan Framework, Draft Final Report September 2021

This Masterplan (which can be viewed here) runs to over 170 pages and cost Council Tax payers £93,000 to produce. The framework ‘Provides guidance to inform the future planning and design of Harlow’s Town Centre’. It notes that the Local Plan of December 2020 changed the boundary of the area seen as the town centre ‘To reflect and align to the natural boundaries that exist today but also to take account of potential changes in the future’. These changes added the land occupied by Harlow College, The Leisure Zone, Sainsburys and the The Square site. Previous to this, Wych Elm, the bus garage and Fire Station sites had already been included in the new Town Centre boundary. Page 63 shows an ‘Indicative Town Centre Masterplan’, which together with a whole host of other ideas on pages 65 to 105 give a blueprint of how the Masterplan envisages the town centre may look in the future.

Whilst the creation of new green spaces and the planting of hundreds of trees will undoubtedly enhance the appearance of the Town Centre, the Council will need to commit long term funding in order to maintain these green spaces in good order. To date we all remember what happened to the red pots in Market Square and flower beds in Broadwalk when they suffered from a lack of care.

The Plan sees Sainsburys vacating their Town Centre site which together with the bus garage and fire station will be replaced by many large flat blocks. No information is given in the Plan as to whether any of the owners of these sites have ever indicated they would be prepared to move

Three sides of Market Square will as things stand remain in situ, except that there is a plan to add another floor to Market House and turn the building into flats. How the Council think this area will become a ‘Leisure and hospitality quarter’ is not explained.

The creation of a ‘culture quarter’ in front of The Playhouse lays to rest the idea of building a much larger theatre elsewhere in the town centre. The Playhouse is already considered too small by many, its capacity being at least 25% less than any neighbouring theatre. An increase in the local population of some 50% in the next two decades can only add to calls for a larger theatre.

A lack of ongoing repair and maintenance by the landlords of buildings is at the heart of why the town centre looks so bad. The Plan proposes that a new bus station is constructed but unless long term funding to maintain it is forthcoming then it will be no better than the shabby bus station we have now.

The Plan will result in a town centre full of high rise flat blocks, with little prospect of encouraging more shoppers and visitors to the town centre. It is a charter for property developers to construct many tower blocks which are not in keeping with the Garden Town principle. Page 63 of the Plan shown below, gives an impression of what the authors expect the Town Centre to look like in years to come.

Taken from Masterplan Framework, Interim Planning Guidance, Draft Final report