Letter to Editor: Toddbrook councillor details demise of town centre: “free market at work”

Politics / Sun 2nd May 2021 at 07:37am

Dear Editor

Re: The recent discussion in Your Harlow concerning the state of the Town Centre.

Some of what has been said I agree with. The northern half of the Town Centre is in a very poor state indeed, shops empty, Market gone, buildings neglected and in a poor state of repair and I don’t go much on the table tennis tables or the siting of the benches. However, I differ with the analysis of some correspondents in that they blame the lack of development on the Harlow Labour Council, whereas the evidence suggests that problems are far more complex than that.

To list some of the issues

Due to the way the assets of the town were disposed of when Harlow Development Corporation was wound up, the Council owns practically none of the Town Centre properties.

Due to Planning Legislation the Council have restricted powers over the buildings developers may wish to build and the time they may take to build them. It also has very little power with regard to former office block or shops being turned in to “units of accommodation”.

The Council grants planning permission for new buildings, but grounds for refusal are very restricted. And just because planning permission has been granted it doesn’t mean the buildings will be built, indeed quite often land is then sold on and the new developers go through the process again of seeking new permissions.

For example, I can remember an Australian developer coming forward with a plan to develop a large part of the Town Centre in 2008/9 which subsequently came to nothing. And the ownership of the Broadwalk / Eastgate Site has changed on at least three occasions. Unfortunately, the Council cannot compel developers to build nor does it have a say with regard to ownership of land or properties.

Whilst the last time it attempted a compulsory purchase on a substantial Town Centre property, (in 2004 under a Tory / Lib Dem administration), it was a disaster with the Council losing an expensive Court Case. No doubt, if asked at least one of the Conservative Councillors could give you the details.

So, what we are seeing in the demise of the Town Centre is “the free market” at work.

Developers will build when it becomes profitable for them to do so, for some it is far more profitable to sit on a run-down site and to wait until property prices rise and then sell. For others they purchase land, increase the value by gaining a planning permission and then sell. All of that is arguably outside of the Council’s control. What it can do and does do is work in partnership with developers, with agencies such the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town and when the opportunity arises with central Government.

On a positive note, the fortunes of Harlow are changing – In no small part due to the efforts of the Labour Administration. Through working in partnership, we now have the Enterprise Zone nearing completion, in the not too distant future we will have the Public Health England Laboratories, over the next twenty years we will see the growth of the Garden Town. I believe that this will provide the impetus for developers to invest in the Town Centre.

I am also encouraged by the recently announced £75 Million fund available to assist with regeneration of the Town. Incidentally this fund will be there irrespective of which Political Paty forms the administration and is not dependent on a Tory win as some would have you believe.

I also believe it is misleading to pretend that to bring about a positive change in the fortunes of the Town Centre all you have to do is change the political complexion of the Council. Particularly if you look actions of a Tory Party who closed both the Magistrates and County Courts, restricted the opening hours of the Police Station, cut bus services and who received £400,000 from a Donor who reportedly profited from the outrage that is Terminus House

Cllr Tony Edwards
Toddbrook Ward

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