I attended the Board meeting of Harlow Renaissance Ltd. last night, of which I am Vice Chairman.
HRL was incorporated in July 2006 to drive forward the regeneration and growth process in Harlow. It has four key members
- Harlow District Council
- Essex County Council
- East of England Development Agency
- Homes & Communities Agency
Its three key aims are
Delivery: to deliver Growth Area Fund and other projects delegated to us to quality, time and budget.
Collaboration: to act as a catalyst for consensus-building and co-operation, holding the ring and facilitating the dialogue between our partners and other key stakeholders.
Boldness: to import big thinking and innovation into all our debates, complementing the creativity of our partners and acting as agents provocateurs for the radical and long-term transformation of Harlow – not for the sake of it, but with the sole purpose of enabling a sustainable and cohesive community which plays its full role in the sub-region and Essex as a whole.
So as you can see it has a hefty remit.
Last night there was a presentation by Harlow North Joint Venture an amalgam of Land Securities and Places for People that want to deliver new homes to the north of Harlow.
Now I have always been in favour of this growth, with some serious caveats that I will return to later, and this has put me out of step with a lot of Conservatives in the East of England. I have supported the growth because Harlow is very constrained by its boundaries, and has very little land of its own to grow on, yet has the thirst and desire to grow.
As a new town building more houses is something that is and has been part of everyday life to those of us who grew up in Harlow, and do so desperately need those houses to allow third and now even fourth generation Harlow Children to stay living in the town. We are also all acutely aware that Harlow, being a grand old 62 this year has bits that are tiring mostly at the same time, and so that is why Regeneration is my councils’ top priority. Regeneration that can be assisted by growth.
Well not quite because the most obvious place to build the new housing is on a swath of land to the north of the town, that doesn’t belong to the town, in fact its not even in the same county… Its East Hertfordshire, and those in the hamlets and villages that Harlow might overtake are not at all happy with the plan.
But I have always caveatted my support for the building of Harlow North with the following:
- The Boundaries must move so that Harlow gets the Regenerative benefit of the building.
- The infrastructure to support Harlow North must arrive before or at the same time as the development.
- Any development must offer a one town solution and not two separate communities.
And really that last one is the clincher. It benefits Harlow not one jot if all that happens is a few thousand houses are built in East Herts with no reference to one cohesive community, if the links across the river between the two areas are not solved and if no effort is made to integrate the two developments.
Sadly the latter is all I saw from the presentation that HRL received. I questioned the speaker with my concerns and in their answer not once was the issue of connectivity mentioned and I was given no real reassurance about the amalgamation of two communities.
For me, who has spent the last six years supporting the idea of such a development it was a disheartening evening.
I hope that the issues I raised will be thought on at length by the people at Harlow North Joint Venture because if all that happens is a load of new houses appear in East Herts, when we all know that the residents there will use the schools, doctors, hospital, shopping centres, restaurants and leisure facilities in Harlow with no demonstrable benefit to the town then the people of Harlow will, rightly, be very unhappy.
The Leader of Hertforshire County Council, one of my own party colleagues once described the town I love so much as “a pimple on the backside of Hertfordshire”
Unless the people at Harlow North Joint Venture get real about creating a proper community, East Hertfordshire could well end up being the pimple on the backside of Harlow!