Blogspot: A walk around the Stort…whilst you can

Politics / Fri 30th Jul 2021 at 07:59am

By Rami B

I GREW up in Harlow in the 1990s. At that time, Sega Park was in the Harvey Centre, and the old swimming pool was on Mandela Avenue. We had school sports classes at the pool, and I often went with friends on weekends. We would swim for hours, then eat chips in the cafe below. Some weekends, we would spend the whole day playing on the arcade machines in Sega Park, transfixed by the flashing lights. Sega Park is gone now; it was replaced by shops, and in October 2010, the pool was demolished to make way for flats and houses.

Once a medieval village, Harlow has completely transformed from farmland and wood to concrete and factories. In 1947, it was designated a “new town” to relieve overcrowding in postwar London. Today, there is ongoing work at M11 Junction 7A to reduce congestion.

Further development projects to ‘level up’ the town and reverse the perception of Harlow as an economically deprived area are set to alter the landscape’s character even more. The most controversial of these plans, known as ‘Central and Eastern River Stort Crossing development’, could see a road bridge pass through the River Stort, an area of pristine natural beauty and historical significance to the north of Harlow.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time at the river. It was my adventure playground. My family still lives close by, just a few miles to the south. I explored the wetlands, woodlands and lakes, and came across wildlife, such as otters and flowering yellow rattle, lady’s smock, and meadowsweet. At night, I could hear the train hurtling down the tracks from my bedroom window, running parallel to the Stort and Hunsdon Mead Nature Reserve. And I could see this beautiful stretch of the Essex countryside spread out — far until where the wheat fields in Gilston Park meet the sky in the summer and covered by a blanket of mist in the winter. We spent most of our school summer holidays cycling along the meandering towpaths or paddling down the river in a dinghy boat, westward, towards Roydon and beyond. Sometimes we spent the whole day fishing for rudd, break, and pike and camped overnight in the common close to Hunsdon Mill Lock.

When I was in Harlow during lock-down, I revisited the Stort on a bright June afternoon, walking all the way from Pye Corner to Parndon Lock Meadows behind Parndon Mill, where I stopped for a break from the sun. I threw my rucksack to the ground and sat in the shade, under a tall tree. I spotted a heron take off and then, nearby in the fields, cattle blissfully unaware of my gaze. In the winter, wildflowers bloom here.

Out here, the air is saturated with a salty smell. Colourful canal boats moor silently along the river; others glide past, their engines hum gently. Trees slant over the riverbanks. People come here because it’s quiet, to walk the dog, or escape. However, much of this rural landscape is under threat. If the proposed plans go ahead (and perhaps it is inevitable), a huge four-lane highway will be built to connect the proposed new housing development in Gilston to Harlow. It would damage much of the wildlife habitat and one of the last remaining countryside oases in the area — not to mention a symbol of my childhood.

Your Harlow caught up with Harlow MP Robert Halfon recently outside Matalan in the Water Gardens as he did the rounds of his constituency. Asked about the river crossing, Mr Halfon quickly pointed out that it is a delicate matter, “It is a difficult tightrope to walk. We want to keep Harlow as green as possible, cherish our beautiful town … but we also need houses.” However, he promised to faithfully represent the views of anyone who contacts him to the planning authorities.

Standing on the edge of Parndon Mill Lock, I look out curiously. To the east, the faint noise of traffic on the A414; to the west, common land and the railway line. Further, beyond what I can see, the landscape begins to open out before the path eventually arrives at the small village of Roydon. The light starts to fade, and cicadas sound. I resist the temptation to go any further and make my way out. I walk for twenty minutes, passing several rusted footbridges on the way, before I am on Edinburgh Way road in the middle of Harlow town, the major road that will connect to the new bridge.

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10 Comments for Blogspot: A walk around the Stort…whilst you can:

2021-07-30 08:10:20

What an excellent well written article that reflects many people’s experience of the town across different eras. Nice work Rami

2021-07-30 08:18:34

Beautifully Said... I share your memories.. And your loss.. Tears...in my eyes..

2021-07-30 08:41:23

You’ve captured our Stort with your words. Thank you 🌻

2021-07-30 08:43:30

Incredibly well written, and so heartfelt. So, so sad that Harlow residents are increasingly being deprived of greenscape. Harlow residents deserve so much better

Michael Szpakowski
2021-07-30 08:55:25

Brilliant! As others have said above, you really capture why this marvellous area means so much to so many and the feeling of horror that it could be trashed in the way being suggested. Robert Halfon’s mind seems to have been concentrated by the 5000+ signatures on the petition against this

Pauline S
2021-07-30 10:24:52

Well presented letter - but it seems we may have to compromise to a degree.

Neil Warner-Baker
2021-07-30 13:46:18

This is such a beautiful post, and it really touched me... Thank you Rami. I really didn't want to politicise your post but would like to express comment, when I was first interviewed by Your Harlow and raised the issue of this badly thought out Highway that nobody was aware of...a very bright man said to me that "You can't win this Neil, choose your battles wisely"....I took that on board, I havent fought any battles and I became WE! People of all backgrounds have come together in Love, Love for nature the River, our open spaces or for fishing Cycling, or getting away from the Madding crowd...Most of all its a LOVE of our town and I'm immensely proud of all the people that have come together in unity to one common goal...to protect our Heritage. When being being prompted in the interveiw I remember saying that a couple of hundred signatures on a petition might help...well we have well surpassed that. It doesn't say whether they are Conservative voters, Labour voters or disaffected voters...it says that they are people that care. The way i see it...if we show our Political Representatives that we don't want this...Then our Cllrs and MP are honour bound to make sure it doesn't happen..And if they do that..Harlow can Stand Proud. If they don't....we stop caring and our town, our World...Falls apart. If you feel the same as us, then sign the Petition or contact our Councillors and MP. If you are our Councillor or MP. Then...Make us Proud of this town once again and stop this drawing on a map beoming a nightmare reality...

Darren Franklin
2021-07-30 16:28:15

Sir Fred will be turning in his grave at what Harlow is now becoming. Green spaces being replaced with concrete sprawl.

2021-07-31 16:43:11

Brilliant writing, your eloquent and beautifully piece encapsulates the crux of the issue.

2021-08-03 15:39:34

So what is the alternative

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