Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from Harlow 2020 Local Strategic Partnership (NT 05(a))

  1.   What was the original objective of the new town?

  Harlow was built in response to population overspill in post-war London and forms part of a ring of eight new towns around London. Harlow was built as a self-sustaining community not as a satellite of London. It was built to enable local people to have access to open, green spaces, homes with jobs, neighbourhoods with access to schools, pubs, community centres, shops and public transport.

  2.   Which of these objectives do you think have been met?

  The neighbourhood principles still remain strong in Harlow and access to green open spaces is still highly valued. The concept of a self-sustaining community in which all people live and work in Harlow has changed as skill requirements have not been met by local residents and had to be imported from elsewhere. There are considerably high levels of in and out commuting in the town. A totally self-sustaining community is no longer a practical reality but one in which local residents have access to good quality local jobs is still an important part of the regeneration strategy in Harlow.

  3.   What do you consider to be its role in the region/sub-region in the future?

  Harlow has the potential to become a significant player in the region and sub-region. Recent consultation on the long-term future of Harlow has shown that local people and stakeholders in the town are interested in Harlow becoming a significant player in the region and to take advantage of the developments that are likely to take place on the M11 corridor. Research indicates that there is the potential for the town to double in size and that this process would lead to considerable benefits to the town and region. Through sustainable growth beyond its existing boundaries, Harlow could address some of the issues it currently faces in terms of poor image, under-investment and ageing infrastructure. New businesses would be attracted to Harlow because of its position on the M11 corridor and new investment in the town could lead to a significantly improved town centre and leisure and cultural facilities.

  4.   To what extent is the original master plan for the town still used as a guiding principle for development and redevelopment?

  The Gibberd masterplan for Harlow is still valued and respected in plans for existing and future developments of the town. The draft community strategy for Harlow clearly states that the Gibberd principles will be adhered to in any new developments in the town.

  5.   How well have the old and new parts of your town been integrated? If they have not been well integrated, what form does this take in physical/spatial terms and what are the implications for future growth of the town?

  Old Harlow is one of the oldest areas of the town. It has managed to retain some of its old town charm as well as becoming part of the neighbourhood concept for the town. Newer developments such as Church Langley have been built around the neighbourhood concept and there is a rapid bus transit system in operation giving residents speedy access to the town centre and train station. It has to be said however that residents in Church Langly do not necessarily see themselves as part of Harlow and this is linked to the "poor image" of Harlow in the main. The image of Harlow is a key area being addressed through the Harlow 2020 partnership and at the beginning of this year a CD Rom was launched containing a series of positive images of Harlow as part of this programme of work.

  6.   Has/can the town achieve the population that was originally planned?

  Harlow has already achieved the population of 80,000 for which it was originally planned.

  7.   How does the age profile of your population relate to the national average? Is this related to your being a new town? How do local agencies and strategies respond to that?

  Harlow has a population of 80,600. 21 per cent of the population are young people 0-14 years; 13 per cent 15-24 years; 64 per cent aged 16-64 and 16 per cent aged 65 plus. As an ageing new town the population is now beginning to reflect national averages and the older population—75 plus is predicted to rise by 30 per cent of the next 10 years. There are some indications that older people have remained in Harlow rather than moving away as in some areas of the country and this will place a number of pressures on the provisions of services for older people.

  8.   How strong is the demand for existing commercial land? Is there demand for further commercial development in the town? What is the effect of commercial development in the town on the towns in the sub-regional economy?

  In the past 10 years there have not been significant demands for existing commercial land in Harlow. There is a large business park on the outskirts of the town which has taken a long time to fill. There are large commercial developments close to the town station which have failed to attract new companies. Growth has come about through indigenous growth of existing companies rather than new companies moving into the area. Harlow has two major companies—Nortel Technologies and GlaxoSmithKline which have both made considerable investments in the town in the past few years. However, this is beginning to change and it is noticeable that new interest is being generated in the town. If the M11 corridor becomes a corridor for growth as is anticipated in the Government study currently underway it is likely that Harlow will have a key role to play in this development. The Business Park is now almost at capacity and if the town grows outside of its boundaries this is likely to result in a significant increase in commercial development. This will undoubtedly have a significant impact on towns in the sub-regional economy. We would hope that this impact will be viewed in a positive light and complement commercial developments in the neighbouring areas.

  9.   Can you describe the sub-regional planning arrangements that are in place to regulate/facilitate development? Can you describe the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach?

  Harlow has been identified in RPG9 as a Priority Area for Economic Regeneration and we anticipate that this will be reflected in the planning guidance for the East of England. However, it is not yet clear how this status will impact on Harlow. This will become clearer in the light of the study on the M11 corridor. We believe that it is essential to work closely with regional and central Government on the implications of Harlow as a PAER particularly in terms of access to funding. The Government's Green paper on Planning makes recommendations which could facilitate the development and growth and strategic position of Harlow over a long period in a regional context.

  10.   What is the regional/sub-regional role of the shopping centre in your town? What investment is proposed in the town centre in the next few years?

  In the 70s and 80s Harlow town centre had a key role to play as a sub-regional shopping location. The advent of out of town shopping and developments such as Lakeside and retail parks resulted in a decline in the town centre in a regional context. The Council and its partners have been working hard to address town centre issues over the past 10 years and this has resulted in more housing and leisure activity being brought into the town centre as well as upgrading of the existing indoor shopping centre and most recently the development of the southern area of the town centre bringing more retail and leisure facilities into the town centre. Town Centre South is a £60 million, 16-acre development which will extend the size of the existing town centre by one third. It will bring new retailers into the town centre such as ASDA and Matalan. In addition, Debenhams are planning to move into the town centre and further development is being planned for the north and central parts of the town centre which could be worth £10 million. There is still a great deal to be done but the tide is turning on town centre development in Harlow. If, as initial consultation seems to suggest on the community strategy, there is an agreement on the expansion of the town—a doubling of the town's population over the next 20 years is being looked at—this will present considerable opportunities for the continuing expansion and development of the town centre.

  11.   Can you give some numerical examples of the problems that have arisen with claw back and covenants in housing amenity space and other land uses?

  At present only those properties included in the Community Related Asset Transfer are subject to claw back. The level of claw back at the time of the agreement in 1987 was 100 per cent reducing by 2 per cent per year. Currently the Council would have to pay 70 per cent of any uplift in value if a site were to be sold for a use different to that specified in the agreement.

  Non specific problems are that all sites subject to claw back are restricted to their designated use until claw back level reaches a reasonable percentage to make any change financially viable.

  In some instances it has been desirable to include a portion of claw back land within an adjacent development. However, this has not always happened because of the delay brought about by having to negotiate and agree a valuation with EP and the financial burden.

  An example of this is at the Pinnacles where a factory has encroached onto claw back land and although the Council is willing to dispose of the encroached area we await EPs response to agree our valuation figure.

  Examples where schemes have been put at risk because of delays caused by EP not responding or enforcing claw back are:

    —  The balancing pond scheme at the Pinnacles industrial area where we are still waiting agreement on claw back to develop a fishing complex.

    —  £4.8 million to English Partnerships on the Town Centre South development—given the desperate need for regeneration of the town centre—a strong case could have been made to retain the money within Harlow to renew and revitalise the town centre. In addition considerable delays were caused in the negotiating with EP on the above.

    —  Sydenham House Health Centre has been investigating the possibility of upgrading its health centre. The Council has been working with the Health Centres Trust to improve the facility but it has been placed in jeopardy because of the bureaucracy and delays likely to be caused through disposal of the site. We are looking claw back of around £14,000.

    —  The Council has been negotiating the surrender of a scout site lease which could be developed for possible social housing. The covenant restricting the lands will need to be varied to enable it to be developed and again EP will receive the benefit of this covenant under current arrangements.

    —  A number of playbarns are now being let out for alternative uses to community groups such as the Chinese Community Association at Lower Meadow where we still await a response from EP to allow the alternative use of this covenant. Although this initially delayed the project we have agreed the lease but await EPs response to allow the use albeit we feel EP may have acquiesced by not responding.

  As the needs of the town change it is likely that the Council will continue to look for alternative uses for sites which are subject to claw back or covenant restrictions such as allotments, community halls, scout sites, swimming pool and sports facilities.

  12.  The Committee has been made aware that in some cases claw back has made right to buy marginal or even negative, in terms of receipts of the LA. Has this been the case in your LA? If so give a financial eg. What are the implications of this?

  We are not clear on exactly what is meant by the above wording but make the following response which we hope attempts to address the issues.

  34 per cent of homes in Harlow are still in Council ownership. The 2002-06 Housing Strategy identifies a £47 million backlog in housing repairs. This is caused mainly by the fact that as a new town property tends to full into disrepair all at the same time due to the relatively short construction period and this has been exacerbated in the case of Harlow by some of the innovative, building experiments that took place in the 50s and 60s.

  Harlow became debt-free in April 2001, but until that time 75 per cent of receipts from sale of council homes went back to the Government. Right to buy in Harlow did not reflect the particular new town issue around ageing housing stock needing repairs and replacement all at the same time.

  Having become debt-free Harlow now has full use of its capital receipts from the sale of council homes. The Government's White Paper: Strong Local Leadership, Quality Public Services proposes that capital receipts from the sale of council homes go into a central pot to be re-allocated against set criteria. Given the backlog of repairs and the specific new town problems around ageing infrastructure we feel that it would be inappropriate to penalise Harlow Council through becoming debt free and losing its capital receipts.

  13.   Can you quantify the outstanding liabilities facing your LA as a result of the package of assets and liabilities transferred to the LA on the winding up of the HDC and as a result of design and other issues relating to the new town?

  This is difficult to quantify but in 1998 it was estimated that the Council needed to spend £2 million on its municipal buildings to bring them up to modern standards. There are two aspects to this:

    (i)  that the infrastructure is wearing out all at about the same time so we face large bills to repair or replace the Swimming Pool, shopping hatches, Town Hall, road kerbs, etc. This is also exacerbated in some cases by the methods of construction in the 50s and 60s which are now seen to create problems in some cases, eg road kerbs and housing;

    (ii)  that the assets mainly come with covenants and claw backs attached so that the Council cannot make the full use of its assets as other local authorities can.

  14.   How does financial value of the liabilities caused as a result of your town being a new town compare to the financial value of the remaining assets held by EP in the town?

  EP do not directly own that much land in Harlow. They own sub-soil of main roads, Latton Farm and the floodplain and Terminus House. We are unable to provide financial evidence of this at this time.

  15.   To what extent has EP participated in the regeneration partnerships in the town?

  EP has been involved in the Town Centre South regeneration programme but its role has been more that of a private developer than a regeneration partner.

  In the future there is enormous potential to work with a regeneration body in a more pro-active and supportive way.

  16.   Many of the submissions refer to the inadequacy of the existing SSA to reflect the needs of new towns. Can you detail those weaknesses and set out any suggestions about how any successor to the SSA could be improved?

  The current calculation of SSA for districts is relatively crude and based mainly on population. The weaknesses of the current SSA can be listed as:

    (i)  failure to recognise costs associated with ageing infrastructure;

    (ii)  failure to recognise fully the demographic impact of ageing population on demand for services;

    (iii)  failure to recognise the impact of the design of the Town on costs: the large extent of open spaces which the Council must maintain, and for instance the lack of provision for car parking; and

    (iv)  the design of the Town with major regional leisure facilities, such as the theatre, museum, and sport facilities is not recognised in the SSA. This is particularly unfair to Harlow which has very ``tight'' boundaries but undoubtedly provides facilities for many residents of surrounding areas.

  Harlow would benefit from a more precisely calculated SSA. There is a particular issue about the element in SSA for ``concurrent'' services, ie services provided partly by Districts and partly by Counties. The SSA is based on a national average calculation which effectively transfers money from Districts to Counties. We would argue for a concurrent services factor based on actual expenditure in each area because, as noted above, in Harlow's case and we expect for other New Towns the balance in fact is the other way, ie the District spends more than the County, because of the impact of demographic factors (on social services) and regional centres for arts and leisure.

  17.   Has the pattern of the ownership and CNT/EP's role had any implication in your ability to develop a housing strategy for the area?

  Only to the extent that any strategy involving EP would need a greater lead-in time than with other partners because of uncertainty over the covenant agreements.

  18.   What is the balance between the original design/materials used and lack of maintenance/resources for the maintenance in the causes of the poor housing conditions found in some New Towns?

  Money was set aside at the time of transfer from the development corporation but this was severely underestimated. The design and materials used in the building of some estates has left a legacy of work that is only likely to increase. Flat roofs, cheap materials and lack of useable parking are some examples of the problems faced in Harlow. In addition the social housing remaining in council control tends to be that with the highest level of problems.

  19.   Has you design led to problems in crime? If so have you looked at ways to design out crime? Are there any funding streams currently available to address this particular problem and if so how successful have you been at bidding for such funding?

  Some of the housing estates in Harlow have become a focus for crime and this has been exacerbated by the design issues. One example of this is on the Briars Estate which has a housing block which has become a focus for young people as a police lookout and the design of bungalows and layout of the estate mean that there are a maze of pathways amongst the houses which can act as easy escape routes. The Council is working with partners to address the issues on this particular estate and will be seeking funding to address some of the problems caused by layout and design. There are numerous other examples in Harlow of estates in which similar problems have arisen because of layout which is no longer appropriate for the 21st century.

  20.   What are you doing through your Local Transport Plan to address problems of car dependence? Does your LTP include provision for dealing with issues of design and layout where that promotes car dependence?

  The Harlow Area Transportation Strategy addresses car dependency issues through the following measures:

    —  Development of strategic bus corridors.

    —  Flexible ticketing.

    —  Development of vehicle-restricted areas.

    —  Reduced parking standards for businesses.

    —  Encouragement of businesses in the town to development transport strategies and commuter plans.

    —  Provision of community transport.

    —  Improvements to the bus and railway stations.

    —  Promotion of walking and cycling.

  21.   Have you introduced or planned any measures to promote mobility schemes targeted at the old and young?

  The Council runs and has extended its Shopmobility scheme for disabled children and adults who wish to access the town centre and its shopping facilities.

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