Harlow Alliance response to the interview between the Director of HGGT and the CEO of Harlow Council

On 25th September YourHarlow published an interview between the Director of Harlow & Gilston Garden Town and the CEO of Harlow Council (you can read it here) to discuss their unique partnership and the exciting project that is the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town. A consultation exercise will commence early next month, lasting for six weeks, which purports to asks residents their view on a range of issues about the proposed development.

The Harlow Alliance Party was the only Party to object to the Local Development Plans of Harlow and Epping Forest District Council when they were scrutinised by the Government appointed Planning Inspectors back in 2019. The Party has always made its case backed by facts and in view of the recent interview we wish to make our case clear to counter some of the points made.

Firstly, the boundary of Harlow should have been changed to include the whole HGGT area so that the public services provided by a District Council are provided by just one Council and decisions made about the future of the town are made in Harlow and not Epping and Hertford as is be the case now.
Because no boundary changes have taken place, Harlow Council will not receive any Council Tax or Business Rates from the occupiers of the new homes and businesses built around the town.

Hundreds of acres of Green Belt land around Harlow (not Epping or Hertford of course) will be lost to development, including land used for commercial greenhouses, just at a time when the country should be reducing its food imports.

The need for affordable housing was clearly demonstrated in the Local Plans of the three District Councils. Despite this, developers have already been allowed to seek Planning Permission with a reduced number of such homes and indeed in some cases without any. Not a single Council owned home will be built in the new developments bordering Harlow despite the huge waiting lists held by the three District Councils.

In the interview reference was made to the ageing housing stock in Harlow. Building thousands of unaffordable homes around the town helps none of the existing residents of Harlow.. Harlow Council has failed to maintain the external fabric of its houses, less than 200 homes per year are being externally repaired and painted, leaving many untouched for literally decades. Perhaps this is all part of a long-term plan by the Council as it has with Sherards House, leave them for years to fall in to disrepair and then say they have to be demolished.

The roads leading in, within and out of Harlow will undoubtably see a huge increase in traffic, more noise, more pollution and more damage to road surfaces. Major road works will be needed in front of St James’ School, at other pinch points across the town and in order to create the new transport corridors. Any suggestion that public transport will take up much of the extra travel seen in the town will fall on the deaf ears of residents who have seen bus routes cut and poor services provided.

Harlow Alliance remains adament that these developments around Harlow will do nothing to improve the lot of us already living here, in fact quite the opposite and Harlow Council has let its residents down. Again.

Sherards House Demolition

Readers may be bemused by the fact that so many residents have objected to the demolition of Sherards House at a time where there is clearly a need for more council homes to be built. Residents have seen this for what it is, over development of a site which with a little more imagination could have been put to better use.

Sherards House is about 100 years old and has been in Council ownership for several decades during which time it has in the most part been used to provide temporary accommodation. In more recent times the land around the house was used to provide seven prefabricated bungalows, but these were removed a few years ago. Since the building became un-occupied, the Council has failed to carry out any maintenance to it, it has been vandalised and at least two fires have been reported.

Harlow Council made it’s first Planning Application in early 2022. Over 50 objections were received in response to the Plan. This Plan was so badly designed that a revised application had to be made in early 2023 and even then, many changes have had to be made to it. The main objections to the Plan agreed on 16 August can be summarised as follows:

  • The original Plan included land which the Council had failed to identify as a Public Right of Way. When it did become aware of this the site to be built on was moved Northwards, onto land which was not in the Local Plan and is not designated for housing use.
  • Over development of the site. One of the consequences of this is that The Highways Authority do not want to see the occupants of fourteen houses entering and exiting the estate from Three Horseshoes Road. Because of this, a garage access road will be used to access eleven of the new houses. Following comments about the lack of a footpath, the proposal was revised to include two, but this means the road will be just three metres wide, so vehicles will not be able to pass in and out of the estate at the same time.
  • Several mature trees within the site are to be removed to make way for the development. New trees will be dotted around the site, but many of these are close to the houses and will surely cause problems such as root damage and lack of daylight within houses.

Both Conservative and Labour Councillors supported this Planning Application, only Harlow Alliance supported residents with their objections. Far better to have converted the house into four flats and build seven bungalows for older residents, which in both the short and long term would have helped more people obtain a home from the Council’s Housing Register

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.