Harlow Town Centre Area Action Plan - Issues and Options Consultation

Ended on the 10th August 2018
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Vision statement

In the future, Harlow Town centre will be a successful, sustainable place which serves as the commercial centre for the existing town of Harlow and the planned Garden Town of Harlow and Gilston. The town centre will play an important part in helping Harlow and Gilston to step up to a more active economic role within the London Stansted Cambridge Corridor.

In order to do this, the town centre will have a strong mix of shops and services; offices and employment space; civic and leisure uses; and a thriving evening economy and cultural offer.

The town centre will also have a decent range of homes that can support a mixed and balanced community.

The town centre will be accessible to all, by public transport, cycle, on foot and by car and will help the District to minimise reliance on private cars in the future.


We have defined the following outcomes to help assess whether the proposals and investments will help to deliver the vision.

  • A unified centre which re-balances the northern and southern areas.
  • A Town Centre which supports wider economic growth in the District providing shops, services and homes, and a diverse mix of commercial activity in the Town Centre.
  • A retail and leisure offer which appeals to Harlow's catchment and limits expenditure leakage to competing centres.
  • A high quality public realm and environment with active public spaces.
  • An inclusive and accessible destination with excellent transport links capitalising on Harlow's strategic location.
  • A strong cultural offer which is supported by residents and visitors to the Town Centre.
  • Community facilities which support the town's population.
  • A cohesive place, supported by uses and design proposals which complement one another and work towards the overarching vision.
  • A commitment to retain the ethos and respond positively to the defining elements of the Gibberd masterplan including the plan aesthetic, public art and spaces, heritage assets and positive architectural characteristics.

Spatial Objectives 1 - 5

Spatial objectives (continued)

1 Retain the plan aesthetic

There is a formal composition to the arrangement of the streets and spaces in Harlow.

Buildings and public spaces have been set out on an irregular rectilinear grid, aligning frontages and with clearly defined corners.

Proposals should:

  • Reflect the plan aesthetic of Gibberd's original vision
  • Provide a rectilinear approach rather than curved or diagonal structure, as far as possible

2 Respond to the urban structure

Working with the original bone structure of the town, taking a cue from the network of streets and spaces and the plan aesthetic as well as the original buildings.

Using the masterplan to 'repair' spatial conditions which are not currently working and to support spatial conditions which are currently successful or have potential to be so.

Proposals should:

  • Establish perimeter blocks that provide frontage to streets
  • Reflect the broad size of block structure that exists in the town centre, avoiding the creation of 'super blocks'

3 Rebalance the focus of gravity northwards

Accommodating uses which can help to shift the centre of gravity within the Town Centre northwards again

This does not mean to make the southern and the western areas less active, but to bring the Stonecross area up to this level.

Proposals should:

  • Establish a viable mix of commercial and residential uses in the northern section of the town centre, with active uses at ground floor
  • Co-locate and cluster similar uses such as culture or leisure uses, to establish a critical mass

4 Change the street character of the inner ring road

Changing the character of the inner ring road to a fronted boulevard on First Avenue with connections across to shift away from a dual carriageway

Adding at-grade pedestrian crossings on Velizy Avenue and Haydens Road to connect with surrounding areas.

Proposals should:

  • Review where the central reservations can be removed to create urban streets
  • Identify locations for buildings to front the street
  • Improve and increase the number of at-grade pedestrian and cycle connections into the town centre

Spatial objectives (continued)

5 Establish a unified centre

Helping the town to operate as one centre rather than three separate areas

At present, the Water Gardens and the Harvey Centre act successfully as insular areas but have very different characters and do not have a relationship with one another or with the Stone Cross area.

Proposals should:

  • Enhance pedestrian and visual links between the Water Gardens area, the Harvey Centre and Stone Cross area
  • Avoid insular shopping environments, which look inward rather than integrating with their surrounds

Spatial Objectives 6 - 10

6 Establish street frontages and attractive approaches

Addressing servicing approaches to the Town Centre, where possible, so that people are welcomed to the Town Centre as they approach.

Proposals should:

  • Review opportunities to rationalise servicing areas
  • Encourage a block structure which keeps servicing within the block rather than being visible on the approach to the town centre

7 Connect to and draw in green spaces

A landscape wedge along the northern edge of the Town Centre reflecting Gibberd's original masterplan principles.

Stronger connections to the green spaces that surround the Town Centre, as intended in the original plan.

Proposals should:

  • Improve pedestrian and cycling links, at grade as a priority, to nearby green spaces to the southern green wedge, the town park and to the Stort Valley
  • Consider tree planting and other greening measure to bring nature into the town centre

8 Frame views of key buildings and spaces

Improving the visibility of the Town Centre from the surrounding roads and framing views of key buildings such as the church to improve their setting.

Proposals should:

  • Consider the impact on views to key buildings and spaces such as the Water Gardens, St Paul's Church and Market Square
  • Propose public realm that supports the character of these places

Spatial objectives (continued)

9 Celebrate and reflect design heritage

Celebrating the unique design heritage of Harlow and using this to inform future development proposals

Ensuring that these design cues are followed for future development in the town taking consideration of the qualities of colours, materials and detailing of the original fabric

Identifying buildings and qualities of value which could be transformed through refurbishment

Proposals should:

  • Review refurbishment opportunities and retain attractive, original buildings where these remain
  • Use these historic buildings as a design cue for new development in the town centre

10 Reinstate access through the town centre

Bringing cars back into the centre to provide a comfortable, safe environment in the evening and to raise the profile of the Stone Cross area.

Proposals should:

  • Review opportunities to bring back timed or limited car access to East Gate-West Gate
  • Review opportunities for bringing public transport through these streets, such as stops for a Bus Rapid Transit system

Key market drivers

The Harlow Town Centre Market Analysis report (2017) identifies five main market drivers. It is important that these drivers are embedded in parallel with the spatial objectives.

  1. Social infrastructure
  • The broader Town Centre has strengths in education, and convenient and safe pedestrian links would encourage users to visit the Town Centre more frequently.
  • The cultural offer should be retained and enhanced where possible.
  • Other community facilities in the centre are disparate in sub-optimal locations. There is scope for co-location of facilities in more convenient locations in more efficient buildings.
  1. Quality of environment
  • A high quality public realm is important for attracting shoppers seeking a high quality experience
  • Positive environmental characteristics will promote development and growth.
  1. Accessibility
  • The Town Centre has a significant amount of parking but quality and security is generally poor.
  • Relative distance between rail station and Town Centre hinders the success of centre. There is a need for better walking and cycling links and a more efficient and frequent bus route.
  • There is an opportunity to consider the re- provision of the bus station to release land for development and to provide a safer, better quality facility.

  1. Site promotion
  • A clear planning framework can assist in encouraging development and growth in the Town Centre. In this context, the AAP will provide coherent framework that sets direction for change in Harlow Town Centre.
  1. Place management
  • Proactive Town Centre management can improve quality of environment, safety and security and marketing and promotion of Town Centre.
  • Town centre management vehicles such as Business Improvement Districts can also improve performance, as well as the possible use of Local Development Orders (LDOs).

Relationships between AAP policy themes and Local Plan / AAP Vision and objectives for reference

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