Harlow Council completes purchase of Occasio House as regeneration of town centre continues

News / Tue 20th Dec 2022 at 01:10pm

HARLOW Council has completed the purchase of the derelict Occasio House site to enable the delivery of its plans for the regeneration of the Playhouse Quarter. 

The council completed the £1m purchase last week on the same day it bought the Harvey Shopping Centre.

Occasio House has been empty and derelict since 2016. Its buildings are covered in aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding which is like the cladding used on Grenfell Tower. Therefore, the whole site will be demolished and redeveloped as part of the council’s plans to transform College and Playhouse Square.

Back in July the council submitted to government a public-backed £20m Levelling Up Fund bid to support the transformation of the area into an Arts and Cultural Quarter which includes:

·       A new live music venue

·       Upgrades to the Playhouse

·       New pedestrian focused and engaging public square for events, outdoor performances, cinema, and outdoor dining

·       Contemporary bar and café

·       Artist and maker studio spaces

·       High-quality residential apartments

·       Flexible studios for creative and performing arts, rehearsal space, events, smaller and outdoor performances, and community uses

·       A new art gallery and associated spaces for literary arts, spoken word, education events and visiting exhibitions and installations

·       Green pocket park with natural play installations

·       Accessibility provisions including disabled parking and accessibly designed spaces

·       Upgraded and secure underpass beneath Haydens Road

The council is expected to hear the outcome of the bid at the end of January.

The Occasio House buildings were used as private accommodation and services for young people up to 2016. They never reopened and following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, the substantial cost of replacing the cladding and bringing the buildings back into use has posed significant challenges. Over the last 3 years, this position has been exacerbated by increases in construction costs, rendering the reuse and refurbishment of the current building unviable. About 18 months ago the cost of bringing the buildings back into use was estimated around £7m.

The council has long planned to buy the site and completed the purchase using funding allocated in its capital programme. The council hopes to start demolition work early in the new year and construction works of the redevelopment shortly after – subject to Government approval of the Levelling Up Fund bid.

Councillor Dan Swords, Deputy Leader of the Council, said that the council will do what it takes to regenerate Harlow’s town centre, he said: 

“The completion of the purchase of the Occasio House site on the same day we bought the Harvey Centre truly shows that we are getting on with our plans to regenerate, support and renew Harlow town centre. There is no doubt that the demise of Occasio House is a sad one – it has stood derelict, unfit for use and blighting the town centre for too long. The action we are taking will ensure we inject new life into this part of the town centre and restore pride. 

“Our plan is to redevelop the site into a new high-quality residential development as part of a thriving new Arts and Cultural quarter for the town centre. These major redevelopment plans will transform our town centre and we are getting on with the job of delivering so that no longer are these just plans, but the reality that residents see when they come into the town centre.”

“I want to make it clear to residents that this purchase will not detract us from the delivery of our other priorities. We will be continuing to invest in all our regeneration work such as improving and repairing existing council homes and building new council homes.”

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25 Comments for Harlow Council completes purchase of Occasio House as regeneration of town centre continues:

2022-12-20 13:54:02

Wow I know it’s xmas but where are we getting all this money from, Harlow maybe one of the worst places in the county to live but we are surely the Richest. Sounds like there’s an Election on the Horizon.

2022-12-20 14:53:07

David, it's right there. Here, I've copied and pasted it here for easy reading: Back in July the council submitted to government a public-backed £20m Levelling Up Fund Clear enough for you?

Bobby Bobbler
2022-12-20 14:56:39

Nothing easier than spending other peoples money. I'm looking forward to when these properties start bringing in income and the shareholders (ie Council Tax payers) will be seeing dividend payments.

2022-12-20 15:22:30

I don't think people realise just how big of an achivement the purchase of this and the Harvey Centre are. The council now own a fairly big chunk of the town centre, which has largely been the issue with stalled regeneration for the past 10+ years - in not owning any of the buildings. Now they do, and prominent ones at that, there will be far less hurdles to overcome in redeveloping these areas. Crucially though, far less excuses if they aren't.

Luke Burton
2022-12-20 17:34:37

Well done - but I will believe the regeneration when I see it. This town has fundamental issues that money cannot necessarily solve.

2022-12-20 18:37:19

Why pay £1000,000 for a building that's not sellable? Being clad in Grenfell like cladding the Council should have condemned the building and asked the owner for the costs!

2022-12-20 19:05:20

Nostradamus, the building is not needed. It is derelict and an eyesore, left to rot by the previous Labour Administration. It is the site, the land that has value and will be well used to enhance the new Cultural Quarter within the Town Centre. None of this should come as a surprise. This was an election pledge by the current Conservative Administration. Good to see they are making good on their manifesto after a decade of Labour failure.

gary roberts
2022-12-21 06:02:57

And you end up in a chaos of a Conservative council, a Conservative council running around town trying to sell land at a lower price because white elephant land banking is a threat of bankruptcy.

Yasmin Gregory
2022-12-21 07:02:28

I would have waited until confirmation of the Levelling Up bid had been approved and the money in the bank until I started spending/borrowing. Storyboards are just that. Until all funds have been approved and the land purchased, including access roads, delays and empty buildings may be the only result of the two recent purchases. Meanwhile residents are still waiting for roof repairs.

2022-12-21 08:36:28

Gary Roberts, 10 years of a Labour Administration and regeneration achieved? ZERO! Left the Town Centre looking like a Third World shanty town. Harlow deserves better and is finally heading in the right direction.

Casandra Solola
2022-12-21 08:41:00

It would have been great to see that Harlow Council could reuse Occasio House to rehouse young people rather than spend the money regenerating the town with arts and culture. Homeless people live on the streets, and young people, often do not have refuge. I lived in Occasio House, and I am proud to say that it did justice and helped youths to find stability. I think it’s a bad idea that Harlow Council would rather spend the money on arts and culture when there is a housing need in Harlow. Spending 24 million to regenerate rather than 7 million to reinstate the building, I think, would be far better, as it can bring so much value to the community and the youths of tomorrow.

gary roberts
2022-12-21 09:05:52

James perhaps you should wait to look under the bonnet before buying into the headline. Regeneration without the resources to deliver it is even worse than zero. It ties the electorate into it big time if the council is left with just empty land and an even bigger debt: doesn't it? Please remember this council stated to me that the refurbishment of Osler House in Potter Street would start in February but ten months later it is still derelict and sadly likely to remain so for some time. They then stated they didn't have the resources to do it!

Richard Porter
2022-12-21 09:58:07

Reading through the article i’m pleasantly surprised it appears Harlow is the have a live music venue back at last after the cultural vandalism of Essex County Council , selling the land that the square was on .

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-21 10:25:54

Harlow Council must be convinced that they will receive the £20 million they have sought from the Government to regenerate the area around the Playhouse. I think Yasmin makes the best point here, 6 years since the building was vacated, why buy it now when it will be only a couple of months until the Governments decision is known? Lets hope Harlow Council, has a Plan B in case the money is not forthcoming. As for what happens to the building, well demolish it, build 40 to 50 high quality, modern 2 bedroomed apartments for residents over the age of 55 and encourage tenants to move out of the council house they no longer need, which can then be offered to families on the Council's Housing Register.

2022-12-21 10:51:51

Once again Nicholas Taylor makes the best sense.

iain lindsay
2022-12-21 11:06:05

Sorry, this is Harlow not Stratford Upon Avon. An Arts and Cultural Quarter? Major retailers don't want to open stores in town centres because footfall is severely reduced due to the advent of online shopping and the introduction of emission-free zones, so cafes and artist spaces are going to bring in next to no revenue. Occasio House should never have been built in the first place as a haven for drunks and druggies. If the need to build Council houses is imperative, then build them on the site, or build the new hospital there, rather than in Sheering.

2022-12-21 18:18:58

Iain Lindsay, we had a thriving arts and cultural scene in the 70’s and 80’s. The Playhouse had wonderful productions and there was plenty of live music of all categories. Your comments do not reflect the wishes of many residents who would like a vibrant town centre offering good shops, cafes, restaurants and leisure options. At present, as other contributors have mentioned, the current offer is very poor. People are compelled to go to neighbouring towns like Bishop’s Stortford or Hertford for leisure pursuits. A town of our size should have these facilities and seek to attract visitors from outside.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-21 19:25:07

Tom, Bishops Stortford or Hertford for leisure pursuits? You must surely be Joking! Within just a couple of hundred yards radius in our Town Centre is a tenpin bowling centre, three gyms, a cinema, the live lounge, the theatre, a snooker club, two games centres and numerous restaurants . The problem with the plans as they stand for the Playhouse Quarter is that we will still have the smallest theatre in the region thus Harlow will never become a regional cultural centre. What we need is a theatre twice as big as it is now. Since the demise of The Square a number of other venues around the town provide very successful live music. Despite all the rhetoric about a live music venue in the town centre, despite the best efforts of the Live Lounge, they have not been able to attract anything like a decent sized audience.

2022-12-21 20:24:41

Mr Taylor, pray tell me which decent restaurants exist in the Town Centre. I know of none that compare with the offerings in Hertford and Stortford. There are no decent wine bars either. The general environment and atmosphere of the Town Centre is awful and hardly conducive to meeting friends for dinner or drinks. Around the Bus Terminal and Market Sq is seedy to say the least.

2022-12-21 20:26:59

Living in dream land. A vibrant arts & music centre how does this help in Levelling up. I thought the idea of Levelling up was to bring those at the bottom to a better standard of living so how is high quality housing helping those whose houses have leaking roofs & mould? Trying to drive into or out of a grid locked Harlow is not much of an incentive to visit the Town

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-21 23:53:14

Well Tom, I listed leisure activities in the town centre and failed of course to mention the swimming pool and the golf simulator in the Leisurezone. As for restaurants, Pizza Express, Nando's (often packed), Wagamama, the one in the hotel and the one in Bird Cage Walk may not be a great choice but when tied in with the leisure places I mentioned, still for many a good night out.

2022-12-22 01:17:05

Thanks Mr Taylor. Other than major chain outlets, nothing particularly enticing. No independents such as on the places I mentioned or even in a much smaller town such as Epping. I and many people I know who live in Harlow spend much of shopping and combined leisure time outside. The town centre is very low in terms of quality and choice. I really do hope that the planned regeneration does take place. It is truly needed.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-22 08:51:00

And yet Tom, the Town Centre has been packed in the last couple of weeks. I rather think that many people who live here take all the wonderful facilities we have in the town for granted. I will occasionally go out of town for a meal but on the other hand clearly many people come into Harlow. What I think we can all agree on is that not just more restaurants are needed in the town, we need more reasons for getting people to come here in the evenings.

2022-12-22 11:25:49

Mr Taylor, I don’t disagree. We need more and varied evening entertainment and leisure options in a pleasant and safe environment. This can include theatre, live music, decent restaurants and wine bars, market square offerings, e.g. Christmas markets, farmers markets, craft markets, etc. It can be done.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-30 20:12:48

The other thing of course is the matter of shop rents. I wonder what rents Strawberry Star will charge for ground floor space in it's brand spanking new high rise buildings. Not sure they will entice independent restaurants to open up, what with all the problems the hospitality sector is experiencing at present.

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