Letter to Editor: The Stow planning decision shows “council policy no longer worth paper written on”.

News / Sun 31st May 2020 at 08:53am

Letter to the Editor

Council Policy …… no longer worth the paper it is written on.


I write in response to the report of the Council meeting which took place earlier this week when the future of the former service bays at The Stow were discussed. I am afraid that the report does not actually reflect on the outcome of this meeting.

Readers may remember that Harlow Council’s Local Plan requires house builders to provide 30% of their new homes as ‘affordable’ in the hope that local people looking for a new home can afford to remain in the town. At the heart of any Local Plan is the requirement to assess what new homes are likely to be needed in the following decade or so and provide certainty to housebuilders as to what type and where homes can be built.

Earlier this week, not for the first time, a developer looking to build homes on the former service bays at The Stow presented a scheme to the Planning Committee. The applicant stated that as the scheme stood, they were unable to build any affordable homes on the site and offered the Council £50.000 in exchange for relaxing this 30% requirement, money which it must be said the council can only use to build new homes. This sum would build at best half a new home.

Whilst a couple of councillors did comment on the lack of affordable homes, more time was spent deciding what hours of work could be spent by the builders on site during construction and issues surrounding landscape on the site. The scheme was accepted as it stood on a vote of 7 to 3, by councillors from both Labour and Conservative

The same committee recently gave planning permission for the first of many new flat blocks proposed for the Town Centre, despite only 8% of the homes being ‘affordable’. Residents in Harlow desperate for a new home must be wondering when the Council will ever adhere to it’s own policy in respect of ensuring ‘affordable’ homes are built.

As a footnote, property investors are now being targeted by the builders of these new flats in the Town Centre, with starting prices for a bedsit of £199,000 rising to £399,000 for the largest homes. One can only guess what rents will be charged by these investors once the properties have been built. I suspect they will be out of reach for most local residents on an average Harlow wage.

Perhaps of even greater concern is the fact that Harlow Council owned the site at The Stow for many decades and sold it off to a private developer when they should have concentrated their own house building plans on this site.

The Harlow Alliance Party are the only Party who would tell potential house builders that unless they bring forward a scheme which meets the 30% affordable target, planning permission will not be given and that they should only come back with a scheme that does.

Otherwise you might just as well put the Plan in the bin!

Nicholas Taylor
Harlow Alliance Party

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11 Comments for Letter to Editor: The Stow planning decision shows “council policy no longer worth paper written on”.:

Jake Shepherd
2020-05-31 09:55:27

Respectfully Nicholas, I think the key quote in this is: "I suspect they will be out of reach for most local residents on an average Harlow wage". That's why it's so important they the different strands of Harlow's development come together. With PHE coming to the town, the Harlow Science Park and the other enterprise zone developments plus with the new school Sir Frederick Gibberd College - there's going to be opportunities for local residents to start / retrain into higher paid jobs. There's issues around affordable housing and viability assessments by developers which I'm glad you mentioned, and you're quite right to do so, however the council aren't well placed to deal with that (because if they refuse an application based on viability it can be overturned by the government's inspector). However, there are government help to buy schemes which these new builds will be eligible for. Increases to the National Living Wage (which should be higher and applicable to all workers not just those over 25) also helps. Development is positive if it is accessible to local residents, the local plan aims to ensure it is and much of the associated development is helping to achieve that.

2020-05-31 10:21:47

I am afraid to say Jake you are just peddling the same message put out by local politicians, which really is a great shame when it comes from the Labour Party. The fact is, at the heart of a Local Plan is the requirement to identify what housing need is in an area and to set out a plan as to how this is to be met, hence the 30% target for affordable housing. If you take into account what happened at Churchgate Street a couple of years ago, what is happening at the former Rugby Club site and at Newhall and Gilden Way, as things stand this target will never be met. Despite what you say about about training and wages etc, there will always be people earning low wages, those stacking shelves, cleaners, bin men etc ..... who will never be able to afford to buy. As to the Help to Buy Scheme, well this is just a disaster for many home owners down the line and it has been proved that this is a wasteful way of spending public money, better spent on allowing Council's to build more homes. With a robust Plan in place, developers will not come forward with schemes that do not meet the Councils target. This is all about 'housing greed' not 'housing need'. And I haven't even got to say about the rabbit sized homes being built yet!

2020-05-31 11:00:14

It’s a shame but yet again no surprise that the author of the letter has no inspiration or ambition for Harlow current and future community. It appears we should stay in the 60 or 70. Whilst I suspect a very small minority of people may agree with him the Majority don’t. The stow is in desperate need of rejuvenation ,the current site is derelict and is desperate need for regeneration. The design is of a high quality. This will bring alternative options for growth and opportunity. It will bring customers to the stow shopping area to enable it to grow and prosper. Opportunities come with consequences. This is good for the stow This is good for the town This is good for the economy This is good for prosperity. You keep looking backwards we’re looking forward. Agree we have massive challenges to support council homes but don’t blame the council, blame the party that changed the criteria. If you want to bring about real change then don’t support your Tory friends. In the meantime please stay sensible and safe. Thank you.

2020-05-31 11:23:58

We can all agree Durcant that a development there is good for The Stow, will bring more shoppers to the Stow, the Town, the economy, prosperity and should be of good design. But what is the point of assessing housing need and setting a target for affordable housing if every time the Council is faced with a Planning Application which does not meet the target they fail to adhere to it. This and all the other developments in recent times do little or nothing to help those on Harlow Council's Housing Register. Have you taken the trouble to ask resident what they want .... The Harlow Alliance Party's recent resident survey showed overwhelming support (80%+) for the construction of complexes for the elderly, the site at the Stow was an ideal location for the Council to construct such a development, freeing up homes which are presently under occupied across the town.As for looking back to the 60's and 70's .... well at least residents had a reasonable if not good prospect of renting a home from the council, so what's wrong with that? I an afraid you are being seduced by housing greed and not (very clearly not) looking at housing need. As for supporting the Tories ... well readers only have to look at recent articles from us to see we don't like many of their policies either.

2020-05-31 12:22:55

My final comment to build something you have to own it first. If it helps as the cabinet member I have another site in mind for homes for active elderly. The land belongs to the council and is in a good location. Will update on any progress. Stay safe

2020-05-31 15:36:07

Two last comments Durcant .... The Stow service bays were owned by the council, indeed it had a local depot for housing maintenance on this site for decades. Secondly, I see the latest Planning Application for homes in Newhall ..... just 15% will be affordable. Put quite simply, the Labour administration with the help of the Tories are time and time again letting down the people of Harlow .... the residents of Bushey Croft and the businesses at Wych Elm to name just two other recent cases. Cannot help wonder why Labour are intent on continuing to helping house builders make billions of pounds in profits. Housing greed instead of housing need.

2020-06-01 09:16:48

A sad day when our Labour council puts "aspiration and ambition" ahead of housing the most needy by failing to challenge developers to incorporate 30 percent affordable housing. It is even sadder when Labour member Jake, who has a degree in Geography from Royal Holloway, trots out a lame excuse about the government's Help to Buy scheme. Help to Buy has been criticized by both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Select Committee, with the NAO highlighting last year that just 37 percent of the scheme's buyers could not have done so without it. Also, both have commented on the risks of negative equity "exacerbated by the new-build premium." Further, one wonders what happened to the great building and maintenance aspirations of Harlow Council's wholly owned HTS group? The answer is threefold: one is that Cllr John Clempner and his 2012 cohort are not there to drive things along; two is that Cllr John Strachan is not on the HTS Board and three is that the big-business friendly Progress faction has regained prominence in Labour. However, when HTS cannot even keep the grass cut how could we expect anything more aspirational or ambitious from them!

2020-06-01 09:43:04

Recent events in the Labour Party both nationally and locally show that my suspicions that quite a lot of the left-leaning Momentum members were opportunist chancers looking for a career were not unfounded. They will naturally now be looking for a career under Sir Keir Starmer's regime. So keep an eye out for more big-business friendly policies from Labour, especially on turning a deaf ear to our housing crisis.

2020-06-01 11:16:25

Wow, a lot of heat but not much light. Provision of social housing is subject to an independent viability test. Property values in Harlow are lower than the surrounding areas and there is just not the surplus available on these kinds of sites. The commercial site behind the Stow was never in the council's ownership, apart from a small yard in one corner. It was not part of the residential assets transferred to Harlow Council but was sold off with the rest of the commercial portfolio when the development corporation was wound up in 1980. Yes we desperately need more social/council housing but the council has failed miserably to provide any more, failing to achieve anything from two 'delivery pipelines' in each of the last two years and the creation of a housing company - which is yet to meet since its incorporation eighteen months ago. All this delay and obfuscation meant the council lost around £3.5M because it didn't spend Right to Buy receipts fast enough.

2020-06-01 13:24:27

Well Simon, as I said at the outset, no point in having such a target for affordable housing. This target is set having regard to the assessed need documented in the Local Plan. As things stand, in 2033 at the end of the Local Plan period there will still be a desperate need for homes to rent and ones for sale that are affordable. Trouble is then, there will be even less opportunity to meet this need than there is at present, because there will be even less suitable sites then than there are now. In February, The Harlow Alliance Party asked at the cabinet meeting what sort of tenure the homes on the former Lister House site (council owned) are going to be ... we failed to get an answer ... I wonder why?

2020-06-02 16:05:12

Bit late in the day but I must respond to Cllr Carter again .... the Council owned the best part of half of this site including the land between the service bays and the church which is now such a bone of contention. What did or will the Council spend the money from that sale and the £50k on? And ... when you say 'the surplus available on such sites' you mean not enough profit.

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