Harlow Council’s Planning Committee: Why don’t they visit the sites?
General / Sun 8th Aug 2021 at 12:54pm
A COUPLE of years ago, at a Harlow Council planning meeting, an application for the new Sir Frederick Gibberd College, on the site of the former Passmores school on Tendring Road, was being discussed.
At one point, a councillor, who shall remain nameless, asked “where exactly is this new school?
A number of other councillors pointed out the window, across The Water Gardens to the construction work going on less than a half a mile away and said “It’s over there!”
It was a rare misjudgment but it does put into question of whether the councillors in Harlow, get underneath the skin of a planning application enough.
Which leads us into the question of site visits.
Over on our sister paper, YourThurrock.Com, it seemed that a meeting wouldn’t go by without the suggestion that they adjourn a particular item and visit the site in question.
For some big tickets down in south Essex they were absolutely essential (DP World London Gateway, Lower Thames Crossing to name just two).
We asked a former Thurrock councillor, what he felt the benefits were:
He said: “Most times, in meetings, you are looking at lines on a map and a series of figures. It is difficult to get a proper perspective.
I had a full time job in the city, so it wasn’t always convenient to visit the site of a planning application but if I couldn’t I would pop down on my own.
“It could be anything: a housing development under the shadow of Dartford Crossing; an infill in Stanford-le-Hope or a new structure out in Bulphan or Orsett.
“Visiting the site, gave you a new perspective, you returned to the meeting with more questions and sometimes, you changed your mind.
“Whatever way, you felt more informed”
Which is why it has always been a surprise to this reporter that in eight years of attending Harlow Council Planning Committee meetings, there has never been a request to go on a site visit.
They may argue that there has never bee a need however, there has ways been a sense such a reluctance to leave the warmth of a committee meeting may lead you to one day, coming unstuck…..which leads us to Katherines.
It could have taken one curious councillor to take a walk around Bynghams and ask the question: “That warehouse E is going to be fifty foot high. Look up in the air and picture it. Then look at how close the building will be to the houses and ask more questions.
But they haven’t and they didn’t and as they say these says, we are where we are.
To be honest we asked one councillor about this application and he said he didn’t even remember it.
A former member of the planning committee told YH that residents should be more clued up.
To be fair, we have been to many council meetings where councillors have been on the money and made very telling contributions and wise decisions.
We understand that the new Portfolio Holder,, cllr Mike Hardware (Cons) is conducting a root and branch review of how planning is delivered in Harlow. Councillor Hardware has spent decades working in the planning sector and so may well be very well placed to deliver this.
We must also be under no illusion as to how limited the powers are for a District Council. There has been a large number of applications, that the council have rejected, taken the high moral ground (or done right by the people of Harlow) and then given the people of Harlow a £100,000 bill after there applicants go to court and win.
The Katherines planning debacle is a symptom of bigger challenges that Harlow District Council but we will save them for another day.
For now, a lot of work and problem solving needs to be done in order to remedy this situation.
The choice for councillors to visit any site is there for them to do so as long as while they are there they don’t discuss the application with anyone. It’s that they choose not to. This needs to be changed and councillors should be forced to do so.
It's a broken system where development planning is assumed especially if said to be "sustainable": sustainable not being defined. It's system that's not fit for purpose, that's tilted in favour of developers and profit and one that defies common sense, it delivers decisions like Katherine's and over generations is responsible for delivering pollution and Climate Change. Cllrs are reduced to well intentioned part time amateurs unable to cope with deep pocketed commercial investors. Time for a root and branch change: yesterday Purford Green, today it's Katherine's, then the Stort Valley bridge barrier crossing, tomorrow your open space or neighbourhood or gridlock on Gilden Way. Development is possible but it needs to be ultra green improving the quality of life for residents and the environment using state of the art future proofed engineering and technology.
I live in the shadow of this development and we have complained many times because of the excessive light and noise pollution from the site. We are rarely even graced with a reply and certainly never a visit or offer of a meeting to understand or discuss our concerns. It seems, as ever these days, that money talks and to hell with anyone that stands in their way!