Local Development Plan Emerging Strategy Consultation (read-only)

Ended on the 30th May 2014
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2. Developing a revised planning strategy for Harlow

2.1 The revised spatial strategy provides the basis of the Harlow Local Development Plan. This has been developed from updated evidence documents, many of which have been commissioned jointly with adjoining authorities, as well as studies undertaken by the Council which provide more focus on Harlow. The emerging strategy must also have regard to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework and Planning Practice Guidance as well as the Council’s Corporate Plan and the Growth and Economic Strategy prepared by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Harlow Corporate Plan (2014/15 – 2016/17)

2.2 The Council’s Corporate Plan sets out the following high level priorities for the district:

  1. More and better housing.
  2. Regeneration and a thriving economy.
  3. Wellbeing and social inclusion.
  4. A clean and green environment.
  5. Successful children and young people.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership

2.3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are partnerships between local authorities and businesses. Harlow is within the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) which is made up of Local authorities in Essex, Kent and West Sussex. The SELEP’s vision for the local economic area is to:

'Create the most enterprising economy in England'

2.4 The SELEP has also set out the following four strategic objectives to deliver this:

  • Objective 1: secure the growth of the Thames gateway
  • Objective 2: promote investment in our coastal communities
  • Objective 3: strengthen our rural economy
  • Objective 4: strengthen the competitive advantage of strategic growth locations

2.5 SELEP has prepared a Growth Deal and Strategic Economic Plan which sets out its deal with Government for how the Local Growth Fund of £1.2 billion – £200m a year – will be spent across the SELEP area. The Plan identifies the following LEP priorities:

  • Accelerating Growth: Enterprise and Innovation.
  • Creating Competitive Locations: Infrastructure and Property.
  • Building a 21st Century Workforce.
  • Enabling Housing Growth.

2.6 The Plan has the following ambitions by 2020:

  • generate a further 200,000 private sector jobs, an average of 20,000 private sector jobs a year;
  • increase the annual rate of growth of Gross Value Added3 to at least 3.1% by 2021 comparable to the wider South East;
  • complete 100,000 new homes;and
  • deliver the Thames Gateway stimulus package to accelerate development in Europe’s largest regeneration area.

2.7 The SELEP set out a number of specific priorities for Harlow. This includes a package of improvements aimed at alleviating congestion in Harlow, such as junction improvements, road widening and new slip roads together with a specific requirement for a new junction 7a) on the M11 to unlock employment growth at the Harlow Enterprise Zone and future housing development in the area. Also included are improvements to the A414 and improvements to the West Anglia Mainline to improve access to the Harlow growth locations.

London-Stansted-Cambridge Corridor Consortium (LSCC)

2.8 The recently formed LSCC has been set up to drive economic development and enhance the quality of life in the corridor. The group seeks to drive jobs growth through productivity and investment and increased economic activity by ensuring local communities access employment opportunities. The LSCC has published a jobs and growth agenda including details of the potential for new homes and jobs in the corridor.

Other Plans and Strategies

2.9 The Council will also need to take into account other plans and strategies in developing the Local Plan. This includes Essex County Council’s Minerals and Waste Development Plans and the plans produced by adjoining authorities.

A Spatial Portrait of Harlow

Harlow is a relatively small town of 82,200 people located on the borders of Essex and Hertfordshire. The town is surrounded by the Green Belt and a number of important ecological sites; the floodplain of the River Stort lies to the north and landscape ridges surround the town. Harlow’s Green Wedges give the town a distinctive character and connect residential neighbourhoods with open spaces and the countryside beyond. A key design feature of Harlow was higher density housing with the majority of the town’s open space provided within the Green Wedges.

Designated in 1947 to meet the development needs of London and the wider south east the town was originally planned to house 60,000 people but this was increased to 80,000 in the 1952 Masterplan. Harlow underwent rapid growth between the 1950’s and the 1960’s, reaching a peak population of 81,000 in 1974. However, Harlow’s population began to fall in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, dropping to 73,000 people by 1994. The town’s population began to increase in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s to 82,200 people in 2011.

Today Harlow forms part of a wider network of towns that extend across Essex and Hertfordshire forming an arc of settlements around London. These centres provide a range of services and facilities as well as housing and employment opportunities and are closely related to London. The town has good rail links to London, Stansted Airport and Cambridge. To the east of the town is the M11 motorway which is a key north-south route linking London to Cambridge and beyond. The M25 (3 miles to the south of Harlow) provides access to other parts of London and the wider south east. Epping Forest District adjoins the town to the south, east and west while East Hertfordshire District lies to the north.

The latest population forecasts show that the town’s population is estimated to grow by 14,036 people between 2011 and 2031. This would require a minimum of 7,500 new dwellings to meet Harlow’s population growth alone. In addition changing social trends (people living longer and living in smaller households) has put pressure on the existing housing stock. Moreover, property prices in Harlow have increased by approximately 150% between 2000 and 2012 and although property prices are lower than in surrounding areas there are still considerable affordability problems for the town’s residents with a growing number unable to afford to buy their own home.

Harlow has traditionally been a good location for manufacturing and industrial businesses. Compared to the national average Harlow has a much higher proportion of employment in Manufacturing, Wholesale and Retail Distribution, Administrative and Support Services and Health and Social Work. Conversely, it is under-represented in Public Administration, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services and Financial Services. The town has experienced a large reduction in jobs between 2008 and 2011 as a consequence of the international financial crisis and subsequent recession.

Approximately 14% of Harlow’s employed residents commute to London and in overall terms the labour market is well balanced with Harlow having a net in-flow of just over 500 workers. Although the district is a net importer of managers and professionals from its immediate neighbours (East Hertfordshire, Epping Forest and Uttlesford) it is a net exporter of workers in lower paid occupations. Although the Council has been working with partners to address this, Harlow needs to be seen as an attractive location to employers in its own right, in order to improve the range of employment opportunities in the town and secure regeneration.

Harlow is also home to one of 24 Enterprise Zones set up across England in 2011 to promote business growth and job creation. The Enterprise Zone is split across three sites and aims to create approximately 5,000 jobs in the Advanced Manufacturing, Research and Development, ICT and Health and Allied Industries in Harlow. The Council has adopted three Local Development Orders to fast track planning applications on these sites.

The Enterprise Zone’s aims and objectives reflect Harlow’s wider economic growth aspirations for the town which seeks to boost economic growth, diversify the economic base and to capitalise on the town’s proximity to the Cambridge and London economies and connections to rest of the UK and beyond.

Issues and Challenges

2.10 The revised strategy has been guided by the issues affecting the town. These have been informed by research and technical evidence including the following studies: The Greater Essex Demographic Forecasts Study (2013), the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (2013), the Viability Assessment for London Commuter Belt (East)/M11 Sub Region (2010), the Employment Land Review (2011), The Harlow Future Prospects Study (Linking Regeneration and Growth) (2013), The Harlow Retail Study Update (2011) and the Harlow Open Space and Green Infrastructure Study (2013). Further studies need to be undertaken including the consideration of the impact of climate change.The published studies can be accessed via the Council’s website www.harlow.gov.uk/evidence.

The Need for Regeneration

2.11 Harlow experiences a number of complex socio-economic and physical issues; these are well documented through studies not only undertaken by the Council but also in Government research papers. This includes a range of social, economic and physical issues such as industrial decline, ageing/inadequate infrastructure, localised deprivation and lower educational attainment. Harlow also compares poorly with comparable towns on a range of measures including employment growth, Gross Value Added (GVA) per worker, knowledge based businesses, skills base and retail ranking.

Figure 2.11

How Harlow performs against comparator towns

2.12 The evidence implies that Harlow’s town centre needs to be rejuvenated, the mix of housing needs to be broadened, the infrastructure needs upgrading and an increase in the business base needs to be achieved. All of these are considered necessary to help change the image and perception of Harlow. Although many of these issues have been the subject of previous plans and strategies at the local and regional level these issues still exist and will require coordinated and sustained investment in the town and the physical and social infrastructure.

Population and Housing Needs

2.13 Harlow has experienced an overall stagnation of its population since the mid-1970s. Despite Harlow’s population growing between 2001 and 2011 the population has only increased by 1.5% in 40 years. In order to ensure existing services, facilities and main shopping destinations in Harlow remain viable the population will need to increase. The evidence shows that there is an increasing demand for new homes arising from a forecasted increase in Harlow’s population and arising from the demand for affordable homes. Meeting this need is important in addressing the growing disparity between wages and the cost of homes in the area.

2.14 Recent housing completions illustrate that the level of housing development is insufficient to deliver the change required. This shows that annual completions have varied in the town from a high of 683 dwellings in 1997/98 to 96 dwellings in 2003/4. It is important therefore, to increase housing completions to maintain Harlow’s population.

Figure 2.14

Housing completions in Harlow (1996/97 to 2012/12)

Broadening the employment base

2.15 Harlow needs to facilitate a successful, growing and attractive employment base, serving both local and regional economies in order to deliver a modern and dynamic economy. To achieve this Harlow will need to encourage a wider range of businesses, including increasing the number of smaller firms, to avoid reliance on a few large employers. It is, therefore, important to reinforce the ‘clustering’ of businesses within existing locations and supporting business services to improve the attractiveness of the town to new businesses. The strategy will also need to facilitate the identified growth industries which are the focus of the West Essex @ Harlow Enterprise Zone.

High quality Infrastructure / sustainable transport system

2.16 The ability of the transport system to accommodate growth has emerged as one of the single biggest barriers to accommodating the level of development needed in Harlow. On the strategic and local road network congestion is severe at peak times and a number of junctions are operating close to capacity or in excess of their original design thresholds. The existing road layout within some residential areas can also make parking and manoeuvring difficult.

2.17 Although there are a number of planned improvements to the road network to support committed development schemes in Harlow (Newhall, the Harlow Enterprise Zone and the Gilden Way development) the evidence shows that junction 7 on the M11 is operating close to its planned capacity and that any significant growth (housing and/or employment) in the Harlow area will cause the junction to exceed this capacity. Therefore, a new junction on the M11 (Junction 7a) is required to deliver growth in and around the town.

2.18 The strategy for Harlow will need to include measures that integrate transport and land use planning in order to provide an increase in public transport use as well as implementing enhanced access to the M11 through a new junction.

Revitalising current neighbourhoods

2.19 The broad neighbourhood structure of the town has served Harlow well; however, it is clear that some neighbourhoods are showing signs of deterioration and localised deprivation, particularly in the southern, central and western parts of the town. Renewing these areas is a key priority for the strategy. Specific requirements include the need to increase and diversify housing provision and the replacement of obsolete housing, as well as improving public spaces within and around residential areas.

Revitalising Centres

2.20 The Town Centre, neighbourhood centres and many of the town’s Hatches are out dated with a risk of long term decline if no intervention is made. There are also issues with the quality of the retail offer and the physical environment. Regenerating the town centre is of particular importance for the strategy. Specific requirements include: upgrading the level of retail provision, encouraging a broader mix of uses including residential, introducing a high quality public realm and consider restructuring centres to increase passing traffic and overcome accessibility issues.

Promoting improvements to the town’s streets and spaces

2.21 Harlow has a unique mix of streets and open spaces which are important to the character of the town. However, there are concerns over the quality of the public realm as the layout of streets and spaces could be improved to provide an attractive and safe environment for residents.

Making better use of open spaces

2.22 Harlow has good provision of open space that provide a valuable and distinctive feature. However, some spaces are underused and are of poor quality. When the New Town was planned emphasis was placed on using open spaces to create a separating effect between different uses. Contemporary planning is focused on creating spaces that are multifunctional (i.e. a recreational and ecological resource). The emerging planning strategy for Harlow will need to ensure that full use is made of the recreational and ecological potential of green spaces as well as improving connections across the town.

Illustrating the Spatial Portrait

2.23 The following shows the spatial portrait of Harlow:

Click on the map to enlarge it

Figure 2.23

Harlow Spatial Portrait

Planned Change in Harlow

2.24 Progress is already being made to address these issues through development and change already proposed in Harlow. This includes approximately 4,000 dwellings at Newhall and land North of Gilden Way and the creation of up to 5,000 new jobs at the Harlow Enterprise Zone. There are also a number of infrastructure improvements that are proposed across Harlow or have been completed recently. In addition to improvements to health care and education facilities are a number of transport schemes, several of which have been included as part of the Enterprise Zone and other permitted residential development in the East of Harlow.

2.25 In addition the Council, in partnership with Essex County Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, is promoting a new junction on the M11 (J7a). Without this part of the Enterprise Zone development and substantial additional growth (housing and commercial) to meet the needs of the community cannot be delivered.

Click on the map to enlarge it

Figure 2.25

Planned and Proposed change in Harlow


3 Please see Glossary for full definition.
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