Local Housing Plans do not add up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harlow and Gilston Garden Town

What is it?

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

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

What is a Local Plan and why is it needed?

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

Why have I not heard about all this before?

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

You can find more information on the following links

HDC Local Plan link

EFDC Local Plan link

Harlow and Gilston Garden Town link

Where are we now?

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

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

North of Harlow  …10,000 homes.

West of Katherines and Sumners …. 2000 homes.

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

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

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

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

What does ‘affordable housing’ mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the term ‘social housing’ mean?

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

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

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

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

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

PAH Board – Please Think Again

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Leverett
Deputy Leader
Harlow Alliance Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Right to Bid (CRB) – Where are we now?

Applications made by members of the Harlow Alliance Party (HAP) and residents living across the town have now seen nine areas of land placed on Harlow Council’s Register of Assets of Community Value.

FENNELLS                       ST ANDREWS MEADOW            DEER PARK

JOCELYNS                      RADBURN CLOSE           WELLESLEY

POLLARD HATCH                CHURCH LEYS                       HAWTHORNS

Six of these sites were on Harlow Council’s (Labour Party) Local Plan,  earmarked for development within the next twelve years or so until the Government’s appointed Inspector of the Local Plan agreed with the objections made by HAP and local residents and told the council on 18 December 2019 that the sites should be removed from the Plan.

If at any time in the future the Council look to sell any of this land (to raise money), they will have to give the local community the opportunity to purchase it as a community asset.

These are all good examples of what can be done when communities come together for a common cause.

If you want more information about CRB you can find it on Harlow Council’s website or by contacting HAP.

Wellesley Residents – Community Right to Bid (CRB)

Within days of the Residents Association at Waterhouse Moor hearing about their successful application to Harlow Council in respect of land at St Andrews Meadow, residents at Wellesley have heard that their application in respect of land adjacent to their estate has also been accepted by Harlow Council.

A CRB would give residents the opportunity of purchasing this land (priced in it’s present condition), in the event that Harlow Council decided to sell it to the house builders who are looking to build hundreds of homes just over the Harlow border in the Epping Forest District Council area. The land in question forms a green ‘buffer’ between the Harlow and Epping area, one which residents wish to see continue to exist in the future.

St Andrews Meadow Community Right to Bid

With the help of The Harlow Alliance Party, The Residents Association at Waterhouse Moor have succesfully applied to Harlow Council for a CRB in respect of land adjacent to St Andrews Meadow.

Much of this land was earmarked by Harlow’s Labour controlled Council as a site on which homes were to be built in the next few years. Little or no notice was given to residents about this plan until they were presented to residents at a public meeting to discuss the Elm Hatch development nearby.

Despite the fact that the site was removed from the Local Plan by the Government appointed Inspector on 18 December 2019, residents felt the need to ensure that if the Council ever decided to sell the land for housing to be built on it, they would like to be given the chance to purchase the land for themselves and thus retain it as a public open space.

This is yet another really good example of what a group of residents can achieve when they come together to form a Residents Association.

Church Leys residents protect their open space

Assisted by the Harlow Alliance Party residents in Church Leys have successfully registered a Community Right to Bid (CRB) for an open grassed area within their estate.

This means if the Council ever decided to sell this land for development they MUST give the community the chance to buy or lease the land, which makes it unlikely that it would ever be built on.

Radburn Field – Community Right to Bid (CRB)

The latest CRB made on behalf of residents has seen the Council accept the application made in respect of the field at Radburn Close, an area which the Labour Party’s Local Plan would have seen turned into a housing estate.

Readers will be aware that on 18 December 2019 this area was taken out of the Local Plan by the Government appointed inspector. Despite this, it was felt that a CRB application should still be made, in case the Council ever decided to sell this land to a speculative developer.

This is the latest of 10 sites which HAP have helped residents give open green areas around the town some protection from being built on on the future.

Make your voice heard

The Harlow Alliance Party is reaching out to Harlow residents to get their views on issues around the town. Help us get your opinions heard.

Our first survey only takes about 5 minutes to complete and can be found HERE