Harlow’s Bright Future – the next 70 years
This article is a slight update from the one first published in the Heart4Harlow business and community awards brochure in October 2017
In 2017, Harlow is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its designation as a New Town. There were many community events, supported or organised by the Council, by community groups, faith groups, and individuals. They highlighted both Harlow’s heritage, the vision of Sir Frederick Gibberd, but also the wonderful artistic, cultural, sporting and community organisations.
In addition to celebrating Harlow’s past and present, it was also a year when we look forward to the next 70 years. I truly believe we are on the cusp of a renaissance of Harlow, and over the next 5 to 10 years we will see the start of a massive and positive transformation of Harlow.
Those that have heard me speak on this subject will be familiar with my ‘4 legs of the stool’, namely Jobs, Infrastructure, Skills, and Housing, all of which are inter-dependant, and each of which must be pursued in parallel. It is not possible to pick and choose just one or two, demanding Housing without the infrastructure to support it, jobs without the skilled work force and housing for the workers, and investment without the critical mass of housing, as each is necessary to provide the justification, and crucially the funding, for the others. I will expand on each of these shortly, but it has rightly been pointed out that even these four together, while necessary, do not make a place. There is a fifth element, perhaps the seat of the stool itself, that holds it all together; namely the great Art, Culture, green spaces, sporting facilities and community spirit that turns a collection of things into a great place to live, work and visit.
Harlow has many great things going for it. An internationally important public sculpture collection with works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Gerda Rubenstein (who I recently had the honour of meeting at the exhibition of her work at Parndon Mill), and many, many others. The many artistic communities including at Parndon Mill, Gatehouse Arts, St John’s ARC and others. Harlow’s many green spaces, the Green Flag award winning Parndon Woods and the Town Park, and of course the Gibberd gardens, as well as nowhere in Harlow being far from some wonderful, and tranquil, wood, pond or stream. There are also great sporting facilities, including the fantastic new Rugby Club at Latton Park, the new Pavilion at Harlow Cricket Club, Martial art centres, the Table Tennis Club and others. Many of these are not well known, even to some living in Harlow, and we must all do more to develop them, invest in them, and to promote them to the wider world.
Coming back to my four legs of the stool:
Job and Economy
The plans for locating Public Health England’s national science hub in Harlow are progressing well, with the old GSK site having been purchased, and the outline planning application approved. The Enterprise zone is also making great progress, With Raytheon and Arrow expanding their presence in Kao Park, the first phase of the data centre completed, and on the Council owned element of the Enterprise Zone, Anglia Ruskin University committed to locating their MedTech Innovation Centre, and the Council building one of the first building for small and medium high-tech businesses. Together they will generate over 7,500 quality jobs, not to mention the knock-on effect to the local economy and local businesses.
For businesses to grow and thrive, and for local people to take advantage of the great opportunities, these must be accompanied by great education and training. Local schools are making great progress, Harlow College has recently opened its fantastic Advanced Manufacturing Centre, and the University Technical College is also making a welcome contribution to the skills mix. There does however need to be a greater investment in Higher and Further Education, in vocational education, in Higher level apprenticeships, and I will continue to support further developments, and argue for a more coordinated focus of skills funding from central government to meet the needs of local employers, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Computing (STEMC) areas, where much of Harlow’s future opportunities will be focused. As a parent myself I know the vital importance of education and training, not just to secure a decent job, but in every aspect of physical and mental wellbeing, and I am sure that every parent would want the best possible education for themselves and their children.
While there are some that might disagree, there is undoubtedly a shortage of housing, or all types, and tenures, nationally and locally. I am reminded that there is more land allocated to golf courses in this country than there is to housing. There are over 3,500 people on the housing needs register in Harlow, buying your own home is an unaffordable dream for many, and young people are particularly impacted, spending longer living with their parents, and being unable to afford to rent, never mind buy.
People will rightly point to the deficit in Infrastructure to support the housing, in health, education, transport and community facilities. Apart from the desperate need for housing in of itself, it is precisely gaining the critical mass in quality housing supply that will enable the investment by developers and government in infrastructure provision, that will attract major retailers and leisure operators, and regenerate Harlow town centre. It is true that we need investment in infrastructure, but we also need the housing growth to facilitate that investment.
There are many ‘big ticket’ items needed in the infrastructure space, including investment in Princess Alexandra Hospital, and ultimately a new hospital in or around Harlow, four-tracking the West Anglia Mainline, and our aspiration for Cross Rail 2 to terminate in Harlow. While these will require significant investment from Government, and will take some considerable time to deliver when they are committed, I, and others continue to press for that investment. There are also things where practical progress is being made now. Funding for Junction 7a on the M11 has been secured, the development at Gilston Park will facilitate both the dualling of the existing Stort Crossing, and a new crossing, and other road improvements, such as along Elizabeth Way are in progress. There is also have an ambition for a sustainable transport corridor, and for a Northern Bypass, and I am heartened by the fact that this ambition is shared by neighbouring authorities, businesses, and others, speaking with one voice.
Many of the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fit into place, and while I understand there will be much debate about individual elements, the particular location of houses, or road improvements, I would urge everyone to look at the bigger picture, and to look forward to a bright future for all of Harlow.
There are many people in the Council, Faith Groups, Businesses and the Voluntary Sector committed to doing all that they can to make a positive and visible difference, to make the best of the great potential of Harlow, working hard to secure the investment that we need, and to ensure that Harlow continues to be a great place, fit for the next 70 years.
With leadership and determination, I know that together, in common endeavour, we can make this happen. The future for Harlow is truly looking bright, and I look forward to sharing at least some of the next 70 years of progress in a town that I love, and am incredibly proud of.