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.

DONT BUILD ON THE GREEN BELT

The Local Plan of Epping Forest District Council will as it stands allow thousands of homes to be built to the south and south west of Harlow.

You may well be forgiven for thinking that everyone in Harlow supports this Plan, which also involves building thousands of homes to the east of Harlow both within Harlow’s border and in the Epping Forest area.

Well the fact is, The Harlow Alliance Party believe that destroying the Green Belt and building homes costing upwards of £400,000 will do nothing to ease the problem faced by many individuals and families in finding a home that is really affordable. Collectively both council’s have something like 6000 applicants waiting for a council home, few if any such homes will be built as a result of these proposals.

The proposals were agreed by the Conservative majority administration at a meeting in December 2018, where it was suggested by a Councillor for the Loughton area that less homes should be built where he lives but the council should allow even more homes to be built in the Roydon area!

Since the beginning of 2019 the Planning Inspector appointed by the government has been assessing the Local Plan and spent many weeks holding examination hearings at the Civic Offices in Epping. The Harlow Alliance Party were the only Party to voice objections to this Plan and have continued to do so since then.

Just a few weeks ago The Office for National Statistics produced new information which predicts that far less homes need to be built than previously thought. Despite this Epping Forest D C still intend to allow the Green Belt to be turned into what are being called new villages on Harlow’s borders.

Maps highlighting the targeted areas can be seen by clicking below:

Land adjacent to Broadley Common

Land adjacent to Old House Lane

Roydon

Our latest submission to the Planning Inspector points out that new developments in and around Harlow’s town centre and on other sites will mean that 3000 more homes will be built in Harlow than the number required by the government.

Just at at a time that this country needs to increase food production, EFDC seem happy to see many acres of greenhouses destroyed and valuable arable land turned into housing estates.

Join The Harlow Alliance Party and help us continue the fight against these proposals.

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