Draft Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report

Ended on the 15th January 2010
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3 Town centre

3.1 Introduction

3.1.1 This chapter sets out for Harlow town centre the policy context; the key sustainability objectives that need to be considered, the situation now (including any problems); the situation without the plan (i.e. the business-as-usual scenario); and issues which we think should provide a particular focus for the appraisal of the Core Strategy and other DPDs.

3.2 What’s the policy context?

3.2.1 Planning Policy Statement 6 (PPS6): Planning for Town Centres6 sets out national policy on planning for town centres and should be taken in to account in the preparation of local development documents (LDDs). Main town centre uses addressed by this PPS include: retail; leisure, entertainment facilities and intensive sport and recreation uses; offices, both commercial and those of public bodies, and; arts, culture and tourism. The Government’s key objective for town centres is to promote their vitality and viability by planning for the growth and development of existing centres and promoting and enhancing existing centres, by focusing development in such centres and encouraging a wide range of services in a good environment, accessible to all.

3.2.2 Draft PPS4: Planning for Prosperous Economies7 consultation closed at the end of July 2009 with the government expecting to publish the final PPS and associated guidance before the end of 2009. The draft PPS4 seeks to combine all national planning policy on economic development in urban and rural areas and town centres into one consolidated and streamlined PPS. The new PPS4 seeks to provide planning certainty for businesses and investors by creating a ‘positive planning’ environment which recognises the importance of different drivers of economic development, from town centres through to rural enterprise. It also retains the sequential test of town centres first. In its final form this PPS will replace a number of existing guidance documents including PPG4: Industrial, Commercial Development and Small Firms, PPG5: Simplified Planning Zones and PPS6: Planning for Town Centres.

3.2.3 Policy E5: Regional Structure of Town Centres of the East of England Plan8 identifies Harlow as a major town centre of strategic importance for retail and other town centre purposes. The policy states that major new retail development and complementary town centre uses should be “consistent in scale with the size and character of the centre and its role in the regional structure".

3.2.4 Policy SS6: City and Town Centres of the East of England Plan states that town centres are “fundamental to the sustainable development of the East of England and should continue to be the focus for investment, environmental enhancement and regeneration". There is a need to support, enhance and develop their roles; and local authorities are expected to cooperate by developing strategies to protect and enhance centres, and by appropriately locating new provision.

3.2.5 Policy SS3: Key Centres for Development and Change of the East of England Plan identifies Harlow as one of a number of Key Centres for Development and Change (KCDC). The strategy for Harlow, as outlined in Policy HA1: Harlow Key Centre for Development and Change includes to “promote the renaissance of the new town through developing its role as a major regional housing growth point, major town centre and strategic employment location to 2021 and beyond. Regeneration and redevelopment of the existing town and urban extensions will be combined with transport measures and enhancement and conservation of green infrastructure to fulfil this strategy". The additional 16,000 dwellings between 2001 and 2021, should in part be provided “within the existing area of the town through selective renewal and redevelopment, including mixed use development in the town centre". The Strategy also states that the town centre and employment areas should be developed to:

  • Enhance Harlow’s retail offer and strengthen its position within the regional hierarchy of town centres

  • Enhance the role of Harlow as a key centre for further and higher education and research based institutions

  • Provide for growth of Harlow’s established sectors and clusters

  • Attract employment related to the growth of Stansted Airport, which does not need to be located there

  • Assist the growth of small and medium sized enterprises and attract new economic development and innovation.

3.2.6 Policy SS5: Priority Areas for Regeneration of the East of England Plan identifies Harlow as a town with significant areas of deprivation and that LDDs and relevant non-statutory plans should set out policies to tackle the problems of economic, social and environmental deprivation.

3.2.7 Harlow’s Community Strategy – the Harlow 2020 Vision9 – must be taken into account in preparing the LDF. To deliver the Vision a number of priorities have been set out to address key issues relevant to the Town. In order to deliver ‘Economic Prosperity’, one of the priorities listed is ‘to continue to regenerate the Town Centre’, in order to establish Harlow as a place that can compete with other shopping centres in the area and encourage local people to spend their money within the town. The Vision states that “The Town Centre has a strong influence on perceptions of Harlow and parts are now tired and outdated. Investment will create more confidence in the Town and encourage companies to stay in the area and others to locate in Harlow".

3.2.8 Regeneration of the town is a top corporate priority for Harlow Council. The Draft Harlow Regeneration Strategy 2009-202110 11 envisages Harlow as a sub-regional centre and retail destination and lists ‘Driving forward Town Centre Renewal’ amongst seven priority issues in order to achieve the aims and vision of the Regeneration Strategy, “boosting Harlow’s position as a centre of economic activity, attracting new business and higher income earners to the town". The current Harlow Regeneration Strategy and Implementation Plan 2007-2009, seeks to achieve a regenerated town centre over a five to 10 year period, including regeneration of the Harvey Centre and implementation of the proposals for Town Centre North and Wych Elm. It also suggests that the Vision for Harlow is supplemented by the statement: “A sustainable sub regional centre with a vibrant, diverse and high-performing economy, and the infrastructure to support".

3.2.9 Harlow Town Centre Strategy Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)12 sets out the following vision for Harlow Town Centre as the destination of choice:

Harlow town centre is an attractive, people focused place with vibrant, commercially successful, mixed use districts connected by a grid of lively streets and world class squares. Stylish and contemporary, Harlow’s New Town heritage engenders a strong sense of place of which Harlow’s residents are rightly proud. Within the sub-region Harlow town centre is the natural destination of choice."

3.2.10 The Strategy has three aims:

  • Establish a strong urban form that delivers both quality and reflects the needs of Harlow today

  • Define clearly the role of the Harlow town centre and to describe a range of opportunities that will contribute clearly to that role

  • Deliver positive change that revitalises the town centre and accelerates image change.

3.2.11 Although the Strategy introduces a new structure for the town centre, it also takes forward elements of Sir Frederick Gibberd’s original master plan. The Strategy was adopted as an SPD by Harlow Council and is intended to help:

  • Inform development control decisions, guiding and shaping opportunities as they come forward in Harlow Town Centre

  • Shape emerging planning policy for the town centre

  • Establish a high quality baseline for proposals within the town centre, including design principles and guidance for the public realm and built form.

3.2.12 The 2004 redevelopment of the southern part of Harlow town centre into the Water Gardens with supermarkets and high street stores, led to decreased footfalls in the northern end of the town and problems for some businesses. Harlow Town Centre North13 is undergoing regeneration and this will work towards the transformation of Harlow into a sub-regional shopping centre and, as outlined in the East of England Plan, this is a necessity for Harlow given the proposed growth that it has to deliver. The regeneration plans for 1.3 million square feet of new development will “re-integrate Harlow Town Centre North with the rest of the town centre and include proposals for new shops, a hotel, businesses and homes alongside transformed public spaces, a new bus interchange, new library and new entertainment facilities"14. The target of Harlow Council, major developer Stockland and partners – Harlow Renaissance, Homes and Community Agency, EEDA and Essex County Council – is for Harlow to feature within the top ten sub-regional shopping centres in the country. It is anticipated that a Planning Application will be submitted in 2010 with an aspiration to begin work in 2011, with completion due for 2014 but the opening of the first buildings in 201215.

3.3 What are the key sustainability objectives that we need to consider?

3.3.1 Many of the objectives set out in the Integrated Regional Sustainability Framework for the East of England – see Table 2 – are relevant in considering future impacts on Harlow’s town centre. Particularly relevant objectives include:

  • Promote sustainable growth within environmental limits

  • Reduce poverty and inequality and promote social inclusion

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

  • Promote employment, learning, skills and innovation

  • Increase resource efficiency and reduce resource use and waste

  • Conserve, restore and enhance the region’s natural and built environment

  • Move goods and people sustainably

  • Meet the needs of the changing regional demographic

  • Provide decent, affordable and safe homes for all.

3.3.2 Harlow also has a number of key priorities for 2009/10 to 2012/13 as outlined in the Council’s Sustainability Strategy and approved in January 2009 by the Environment and Community Committee. Relevant priorities include16:

  • Regenerating the Town

  • Promoting a clean, green, healthy and safe environment

  • Tackling housing need

  • Improving Harlow for business

  • Providing value for money.

3.4 What’s the situation now?

3.4.1 Three broad sub areas have been identified in the town centre: Town Centre South, Town Centre Central and Town Centre North. The layout of Harlow town centre is based upon the original Master Plan, with an arrangement of uses to include a ‘chief shopping area’ in Town Centre Central, ‘civic squares’ in Town Centre South, and a mix of locally based activities in Town Centre North and around Market Square. The original Gibberd Master Plan looked to17:

  • Establish close and attractive links between the centre and adjoining housing areas

  • Create an inner core of pedestrian focused streets and spaces

  • Introduce a diversity of functions that would maintain a lively town centre at all times

  • Strengthen the identity of the town centre through the introduction of taller buildings, notably the now demolished Civic Centre tower, with its iconic rooftop observation pavilion, designed by Gibberd

  • Allow green wedges to penetrate through to the edge of the town centre.

3.4.2 Strengths of the town centre include its compactness and its location in a prominent position on higher ground, with the potential to expand northwards towards the railway station18. It contains a good mix of civic, commercial and leisure functions for a town of Harlow’s size, in addition to some housing. However, although Broad Walk remains the busiest street in Harlow, much of the original street structure has since been removed and layout has been revisited due to development requirements19. In addition, according to the draft Harlow Regeneration Strategy 2009-202120:

The Town Centre has become increasingly polarised between the newer development to the South and the ageing northern end characterised by vacant shops and a vastly diminished outdoor market.

3.4.3 Connectivity, isolation of town uses, underuse, a poor and unattractive physical environment and a struggling evening and night time economy; are all listed as issues for the town centre. There are also several uses (e.g. postal sorting office, petrol filling station, fire station) that do not necessarily require, or suit the building layout of, a town centre location. It has been described as an “urban centre that lacks vitality, viability and has no unique sense of place", with three main design problems causing assorted issues for the town21:

  1. Arrival in Harlow. This is marred by an ‘unwelcoming’ appearance (e.g. car parks and service yards), the ring road, and poor connectivity and signage, with the route in for pedestrians placed secondary to motor vehicles. The location of the M11 to the east, rather than the west, of Harlow has resulted in heavy peak traffic flows around the city centre that is destined for principal employment areas. The railway station is located a distance to the north from the town centre and the Town Park acts in part as a barrier; however, the Harlow gateway development should aid connectivity between the station and town centre.

  2. Severance of the town centre from adjoining residential areas. This is worsened by poor pedestrian accessibility to the town centre, a lack of people living within the town centre, and a limited evening economy focused on a younger age range. The Harvey Centre covered mall is both inwardly focused and presents a barrier at night when it is closed. A lack of housing limits the ability to maintain a vibrant atmosphere.

  3. Absence of quality streets and public spaces and landmarks. This has resulted in a lack of identity and character and offers little incentive to explore the town centre. The Water Gardens, Market Square and the Board Walk may be considered exceptions, but they also have issues that need to be addressed.

3.4.4 The Strategy also states that Harlow has become increasingly dependent on its service sector and retail offer. However, according to the Quarter Business Plan & Development Strategy (Dec 2008), Harlow’s total catchment market share of Comparison Goods reveals that 91.3% of residents within the centre’s total catchment are currently shopping elsewhere. Without further development, it also predicts that Harlow will fall 20 places in the CACI Retail Footprint ranking, from 158 to 178.22 Although one-fifth of all Harlow jobs are located in the town centre, the number has fallen significantly since 1998. In addition, Lakeside and Bluewater are seen as serious accessible competitors for Harlow’s town centre.23

3.4.5 Based upon previous research, the Harlow Town Centre SPD identifies four key principles to take forward and reinforce the role and identity of the town centre24:

  • Encourage a greater connectivity of the town centre to adjacent housing areas

  • Allow comprehensive restructuring of the town centre to address service access, poor edge quality, entry, nature of street space to include the possible reintroduction of through vehicle movement

  • Address designation and design of the ring road creating a lively, actively fronted boulevard

  • Increase the mix of uses, including residential development, to generate longer activity periods and broaden the town centre’s offer.

3.4.6 The SPD25 also identifies key strategic goals for the town centre based on prior research:

  • Achieve high quality civic design from overall layout to detail street, space and building

  • Integrate new development and renewal with existing built structures of merit

  • Reinforce natural landscape forms.

3.4.7 Harlow Renaissance is a partnership of four members (Harlow District Council, Essex County Council, East of England Development Agency, Homes and Communities Agency) established to support delivery of the regeneration and growth process in Harlow. Activities and priorities for 2009-2011 include: “To develop an holistic approach to the development of the town centre that delivers a major step change in quality and also to create increased activity in the town centre and neighbourhood centres in the short term".26

3.5 What will be the situation without the plan?

3.5.1 Intervention through the Core Strategy is likely to focus particular attention on regenerating the town centre. The Town Centre SPD will provide strategic direction and guidance for the development of the town centre, however; without a district-wide plan the development of the town centre may not proceed in the most sustainable manner and will not benefit from joined-up thinking for the District and wider area. In addition, without the plan the regeneration of the northern end of the Town Centre may not proceed in the most suitable manner or in keeping with the needs of the District and regional policy objectives. In the absence of intervention through the Core Strategy the town centre’s retail performance, and the town centre urban environment and connectivity with the rest of Harlow, might also suffer.

(2) 3.6 What issues should be a particular focus for the appraisal?

3.6.1 In light of the information above, key issues to take into account in the appraisal in relation to the town centre include:

  • The need to regenerate the town centre to address issues with connectivity, vitality, viability and a lack of a unique sense of place, these include:

  • The need to improve the town centre’s physical environment including public realm and landmark’s to create character and an identity for the centre

  • The need to improve the town centre’s economy and retail performance

  • The need to increase the mix of uses in the town centre, including residential development

  • The need to improve pedestrian access into the town centre

  • The need to consider the development planned for Harlow Town North.


6 Communities and Local Government (1996) Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres [online] available at:
www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planning/planningpolicyguidance/planningpolicystatements/planningpolicystatements/pps6/ (accessed 9 September 2009).

7 Communities and Local Government (2009) Planning Policy Statement – Consultation Paper on a new Planning Policy Statement 4: Planning for Prosperous Economies [online] available at:
www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/consultationeconomicpps (accessed 8 September 2009).

8 GOEE (2008) East of England Plan [online] available at:
www.gos.gov.uk/goee/docs/Planning/Regional_Planning/Regional_Spatial_Strategy/EE_Plan1.pdf (accessed 8 September 2009).

9 Harlow 2020 Local Strategic Partnership Board (2006) Harlow 2020 Vision 2006-09 [online] available at:
www.harlow2020.org.uk (accessed 18 August 2009).

10 Harlow Council (undated) Harlow (Draft) Regeneration Strategy 2009-2021 [not available online].

11 It is expected that the Draft Regeneration Strategy will be approved by the Council in November 2009.

12 Harlow Council (undated) Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 8 September 2009).

13 See:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/growth_and_regeneration/regeneration_unit/growth__regeneration_projects/town_centre_north.aspx (accessed 8 September 2009).

14 See:
www.harlowtowncentrenorth.co.uk/ (accessed 8 September 2009).

15 See:
www.harlowrenaissance.co.uk/projects/harlow-town-centre.aspx (accessed 8 September 2009).

16 Harlow Council (2009) Harlow Sustainability Strategy [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/corporate_services/policy_and_performance/sustainability_strategy.aspx (accessed 13 August 2009).

17 Harlow Council (undated) Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 9 September 2009).

18 PACEC and Halcrow Group Limited (2005) Harlow Regeneration Strategy – Final Report [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/business_services/regeneration_unit/harlow_regeneration_strategy.asp (accessed 9 September 2009).

19 Harlow Council (undated)Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 9 September 2009).

20 Harlow Council (undated) Harlow (Draft) Regeneration Strategy 2009-2021 [not available online].

21 Harlow Council (undated)Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 9 September 2009).

22 According to: PACEC and Halcrow Group Limited (2005) Harlow District Council Harlow Regeneration Strategy – Evidence Base and Analysis of Needs – Final Report [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/pdf/Final-Evidence-Base-Analysis-of-Needs-Final-Report-July-2005-full.pdf (accessed 9 September 2009).

23 PACEC and Halcrow Group Limited (2005) Harlow Regeneration Strategy – Final Report [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/business_services/regeneration_unit/harlow_regeneration_strategy.asp (accessed 9 September 2009).

24 Harlow Council (undated)Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 9 September 2009).

25 Harlow Council (undated)Harlow Town Centre SPD [online] available at:
www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/environment/planning/local_development_framework/town_centre_spd.aspx (accessed 9 September 2009).

26 Harlow Renaissance (2009) Business Plan [online] available at:
www.harlowrenaissance.co.uk/about-us/business-plan.aspx (accessed 10 September 2009).

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