Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence


Memorandum from Ropemaker Properties Limited


  1.1  Ropemaker Properties Limited welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee.

  1.2  In particular, we would like to focus on two of the specific issues of concern to the committee set out in the Press Release of 30 April 2004.

    —  Where will the proposed new housing be built? What are the implications for land-use and flood risk of the large scale building projects?

    —  How will it be possible to ensure a sustainable infrastructure, including transport and water supply, which will be necessary to support any extensive house building, is put in place?


  2.1  The BP Pension Fund purchased its holding north of Harlow as an agricultural property investment in 1979.

  2.2  When the Fund reviewed its holdings in the agricultural sector in the mid 1990's, this block of land was identified as having potential for residential development as it was close to an existing urban area and transport corridor.

  2.3  Through its property nominee, Ropemaker Properties Limited (Ropemaker), the Fund initially promoted the concept of a satellite extension to Harlow, on the northern part of the site, beyond the Green Belt. This area had previously been used as the wartime Hunsdon Airfield.

  2.4  Ropemaker's proposal, known as Maplecroft, was submitted to Hertfordshire County Council for consideration as part of their Structure Plan Review but the County Council opted for expansion of Stevenage, even though it would result in a loss of Green Belt land. Although the County Council's preference for Stevenage was challenged at the Public Enquiry, the Inspector endorsed the decision.

  2.5  Ropemaker then produced a new scheme on the southern part of the site, in the form of a sustainable urban extension to Harlow, completing a circle of development centred on the railway station and thus giving the town the opportunity to re-establish itself as a significant regional centre. A submission was made on this basis to the Public Examination into the South East Regional Planning Guidance (RPG9) in 1999.

  2.6  The Inspector's report on RPG 9 indicated that proposals for major developments should not be automatically rejected because they are on greenfield sites but regard should be had to positive locational criteria, particularly those relating to sustainable transport and the creation of a good residential environment. The report also commented that there might well be circumstances where, in order to achieve the right development solution, it will be necessary to consider altering the Green Belt boundaries.

  2.7  Harlow was identified as a Priority area for Economic Regeneration in RPG 9. The Harlow Options Study, published in July 2003, included one option that envisaged 9,000 houses being built at North Harlow. Ropemaker, having regard to these and other studies being undertaken in respect of the London/Stansted/Cambridge M11 corridor and the Government's call for an additional 18,000 homes in the M11 corridor, commissioned an Enquiry by Design undertaken by the Prince's Foundation in February 2004, to consider the feasibility of its proposals and the extent to which they would meet sustainability criteria.


  3.1  In February 2004 The Prince's Foundation ran an Enquiry by Design (EbD) exercise to explore the scope for a large-scale sustainable urban extension to the north of Harlow. During the five-day Enquiry submissions were received from a wide range of specialists; some of whom had examined the feasibility of such an extension over many years on behalf of landowners and prospective developers Ropemaker Properties Limited.

  3.2  Enquiry by Design is a very effective and increasingly popular planning and design tool. It ensures a sophisticated interaction between a wide range of factors in the complex processes of planning and place-making. It is emphatically inter-disciplinary and enables explicit trade-offs between the competing and sometimes conflicting objectives that any significant new development faces. Environmental issues and concerns are weighted against social and economic objectives, good urbanism and design is mapped out and costed, "whole life" issues are explored and core values and clear principles are drawn out to ensure the best possible foundations for a new community.

  3.3  In relation to land use, flood risk and sustainable infrastructure, the EbD specifically considered:

    —  National and regional policy regarding growth and the sustainable communities agenda.

    —  Best practice in urbanism and place-making, drawing upon literature and case studies from across Europe and North America and policy and guidance from the ODPM, CABE, EP and the Housing Corporation among others.

    —  Transport, energy, water, waste, and other infrastructure requirements for a sustainable place.

    —  Environmental constraints and opportunities (including a major "gateway" link on the line of the existing causeway and road bridge across the flood plain between Harlow North and the town), with a view to minimising impact and optimising biological diversity and ecological interest.

    —  How best to integrate the proposed new neighbourhoods with Harlow to create a "Greater Harlow" with the many economic and cultural advantages of a larger, sub-regional centre close to London, Stansted and Cambridge.

    —  Accessibility and ease of movement around the new neighbourhoods and between these and the existing town.

    —  Strategies for maximising the economic opportunities for local people arising from the creation of up to 30,000 new jobs in the area.

    —  Opportunities for people to live near their place of work.

    —  How to integrate residential, commercial and civic activities and facilities to create vibrant, diverse and genuinely mixed-use places and communities.

    —  Current and likely future overflying and consequent noise and pollution, taking full account of the planned expansion of Stansted.

    —  The benefits both general and specific, that ought to arise for the people of Harlow from the development of a high quality extension to their town.

    —  The deliverability of the project, given the consolidated land holdings and the determination of Ropemaker to ensure a sustainable place and community.


  4.1  The consolidated land ownership, urban plan and strategic capacity that exist should allow Harlow North to become an embodiment of the Government's sustainable communities agenda, while addressing and effectively managing burgeoning growth pressures and needs in a fast growing region.

4.2  Benefits for Harlow

  The successful developments of Harlow North would bring widespread benefits to the people of Harlow including economic opportunity, critical mass for the provision of educational and cultural facilities, Council Tax revenues to support essential public services and physical and other regeneration.

  The concentration of growth in a thoughtfully planned, sustainable urban extension offers many potential environmental and other sustainability benefits over the current relatively uncontrolled incremental growth in the area.

  Harlow North could be successfully integrated with Harlow to create a larger, resolved and convivial town with the status and amenity of an important sub-regional centre.

  Harlow North would have attractive, mixed use, walkable neighbourhoods with diverse and vital communities.

4.3  Minimal ecological impact

  It is unlikely that the development of Harlow North would have a deleterious impact upon the overall ecology of the area. All significant sites of ecological interest and value could be conserved and even enhanced, and the land's biodiversity could be increased by changing from the somewhat ecologically sterile mainstream agricultural uses to which most of the area is currently put.

4.4  Energy Efficiency

  It would be possible to develop a settlement, street pattern and build quality that would make Harlow North an exemplary low carbon development, conforming to best practice in energy-efficient development and providing opportunities for low impact living.

4.5  Flood Risk

  Building within the flood plain will be avoided, with the exception of essential bridge crossings. Development proposals will be produced in close liaison with the Environment Agency (EA). A detailed hydraulic model will be produced for the River Stort, the associated catchment and flood plain. This will form the basis of a Flood Risk Assessment, which will be used to ensure that the new development meets the EA's flood protection criteria and does not increase flood risk to adjacent sites.

  Harlow North will be developed in accordance with PPG25 "Development and Flood Risk" and with reference to the future scenarios outlined in the recent DTI Foresight Future Flooding Report.[1] A Sustainable Urban Drainage Strategy (SUDS) has been scoped. This incorporates drainage techniques designed to control the quantity and quality of surface water runoff from the site. The SUDS will ensure that the quality and nature of the River Stort, the Stort Navigation and associated tributaries are not diminished by the development, and where possible are improved.

  The valley floor of the Stort floodplain would be restored and enhanced as an informal recreation park linking Harlow and its northward extension. Any minor loss of floodplain capacity from the development of bridge crossings will be compensated by adding volume upstream.

4.6  Sustainability

  The plan and designs for Harlow North that emerged during the EbD perform well against independent and well-established measures of sustainability.

4.7  Deliverability

  Ropemaker has the resources and desire to enable a sensitive, attractive and well-judged urban extension that could become a jewel in the crown of the region.

4.8  Commitment to excellence

  There is a need for a series of detailed and explicit policies, protocols and covenants that help to ensure that the landowner and developers' commitment to the principles and processes of first class sustainable urbanism is carried through into implementation.


  5.1  Developing strategies and design for the sustainability of the proposed new settlement in social, economic and environmental terms was the principal objective and driver of the EbD. Sustainability considerations were fed into all design debates and iterations and a running audit of progress and performance was conducted by specialists Beyond Green and the BRE. At the end of the week the emergent plan and design for Harlow North were measured against the Building Research Establishment Sustainability Checklist.

  5.2  It was felt that the emerging proposals for the new settlements could enhance the environmental quality of the area, and achieve net overall ecological gain. A range of conservation measures were considered including connecting important habitats and improving their management in close co-operation with local and regional conservation groups.

  5.3  The high amenity, compact, "walkable" neighbourhoods that are envisaged with mixed-use development, excellent connectivity and the optimisation of public transport routes and connections represent best current practice is sustainable urban planning. A detailed exploration of sustainable urban drainage systems is planned and a renewable energy strategy is to be developed. Whole life values and costs will inform the design and building budgets. The town plan and design of individual elements will also encourage people to live more sustainably. Local food markets will be enabled and space and facilities will be provided for recycling, composting and efficient resources management.

  5.4  Ropemaker Properties Limited is commissioning a series of detailed studies of how best to achieve its sustainability objectives and embed them fully into its vision, plan and designs for Harlow North. These will be bought together as a detailed Sustainability Protocol that will also embrace construction policy and practice. The process of planning, design and development will be run at each stage of its evolution.

  5.5  Harlow North is intended to be a national exemplar of sustainable development—at the leading edge of the fulfilment of the ODPM's aspirations for sustainable communities.


  6.1  One of the chief and potentially unique attributes of the Harlow North proposals is that they can help deliver national, regional and sub-regional policy for growth relatively quickly as well as sustainably. The consolidation of land ownership, the determination of Ropemaker to rise to best practice in urban and environmental planning and design and the organisational agency and resources at Ropemaker's disposal make for a very attractive policy-delivery opportunity and vehicle.

  6.2   Ropemaker owns the central core block over 1,000 hectares and has agreement in principal with adjacent landowners totalling a further 500 hectares. It is expected that a "land equalisation" agreement with the other landowners will be concluded within the next few months.

  6.3  Ropemaker propose to establish a local "delivery vehicle" comprising Hertfordshire and Essex County Councils, Harlow and East Herts District Councils and themselves. The purpose would be to establish agreed common objectives, procedures, content, community involvement, funding and programming. It would also act as the link with central government for any actions or funding decisions.

  6.4  It is intended that, after due consultation, Design Codes for the whole development would be adopted. Together with the sustainability protocol currently being developed for the site, this would enable Ropemaker to transfer tranches of land to house builders, knowing that the fundamental, conceptual design ethos for the site would be delivered.

  6.5  All of the foregoing, together with the extensive detailed preparation already undertaken, means that Ropemaker is in a unique position to take the project forward at an early date and to optimise delivery on the ground. We would be delighted to elaborate on this in more detail should the Committee considered this to be of assistance.

May 2004

1   DTI, April 2004. Back

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