Boss of Harlow and Gilston Garden Town interviews Chief Executive of Harlow Council

Politics / Mon 25th Sep 2023 at 08:25am

HARLOW and Gilston Garden Town (HGGT) is one of the most exciting Garden Town projects currently in the UK claims Naisha Polaine, Director of Harlow and Gilston Garden Town.

Naisha Polaine, Director of Harlow and Gilston Garden Town and Andrew Bramidge, Chief Executive of Harlow Council, discuss the unique partnership approach which is enabling HGGT to seize upon the growth opportunities of its location at the heart of the UK’s Innovation Corridor.

How can HGGT deliver on its vision of both enhancing existing communities and creating exciting new ones in and around Harlow?

AB: The concept is one which concentrates the development around the existing town and sites. That means it works for both for town centre regeneration and for growth, with the new growth generating the footfall to keep the town centre working in a relationship of mutual benefit.

We can deliver because we have a unique partnership of stakeholders. We all signed up to this five years ago and have collectively stuck to our overarching vision of a town which is sustainable, well-designed and good for residents and businesses for the long-term.

NP: I think it has been remarkable for five local authorities to come together in the way they have with the ambition to achieve beautiful, sustainable growth.

That partnership has been incredible, and it’s enabled us to move forward at a pace, getting agreement to major planning applications and accessing funding effectively and efficiently.

The continued collaboration of these public and private sector partners, who bought into making this vision happen, will ensure the long-term benefits are delivered.

What will ensure the enduring success of HGGT?

AB: Quality of place making and construction. One of the issues Harlow is facing now, alongside the other New Towns, is that much of what was built in the 60s/70s was poor quality.

The focus was on fast growth, cheap construction to move people out of London. Some of it was experimental and hasn’t stood the test of time.

This time we are going to do it differently with the focus on quality and long-term sustainability.

We know it has to delight, be affordable, sustainable and long-lasting.

NP: How HGGT is looked after for the future is an essential part of what the developers must build into their plans.

How we look after our places so they remain high quality into the future is, I believe, the next big built environment issue.

I believe there should be a Stewardship Ombudsman to ensure promises are delivered and that people have access to a form of arbitration so they can get resolutions to issues which impact on their communities if they are not.

How is HGGT handling the ambition of Garden Towns to achieve modal shift?

AB: Achieving sustainable transport is going to remain a challenge for the long-term.

There has been too much focus on highways and routes, and not enough on what the new model for sustainable transport should be.

We have spent five years talking about highway infrastructure but we need to stop focusing on what doesn’t work now and focus on what transport success should be in 5-10 years time.

NP: We will do the best we can, but we can’t reinvent the sustainable transport model by ourselves.

If we want to transform travel, we need viable alternatives to the car and that will need re-imagining at a national level where the government has to play its part.

What are the biggest challenges?

NP: There are many challenges, some logistical. At any one time I am working with 13 landowners or developers plus the five HGGT local authority partners to bring about consensus and outcomes.

Unlike the New Towns of the past, we have almost no public sector land ownership here and there is no clean slate in terms of planning.

This time round, the development is private sector driven rather than public sector funded. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge is taking our residents with us.

AB: I agree. I look at the some of the great examples of regeneration elsewhere, in particular the Dutch new towns which faced similar challenges.

But they have had massive public investment and we need to find different ways.

The biggest challenge is undoubtedly taking residents with us.

We are planning for growth over 30-40 years and, understandably, our residents are worried by the change as they won’t see the benefits for a long time and they want focus on some of the immediate and pressing issues.

Harlow is a Tier 1 Levelling Up town and there is a massive shortage of affordable housing as well as the huge regeneration needed in the town centre.

NP: Yes, the residents love Harlow and they are fiercely protective of it. But they are starting to buy-in and understand that we are doing this for the future generations, some who haven’t even been born yet.

We held a consultation event recently and there were a lot of families there with children playing.

I spoke to one 65 year old man who started out quite cynical but in the end he looked at the children playing with Lego in the corner and said: “It’s not about me, is it? It’s about them and their future.”

What is the one piece of advice you would share with others looking to bring forward garden community developments?

AB: With a partnership approach you have to accept there will be competing interests. You have to accept that and confront it with some mature conversations. Keep the focus on the big things we all agree on and what are our various roles.

NP: Yes, it is Talk, Talk, Talk. A partnership is like a marriage and all strong relationships have disagreements, but the success is in how you work through those to get to mutual shared objectives. The partnership approach we have achieved here is definitely the key to successful outcomes.

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10 Comments for Boss of Harlow and Gilston Garden Town interviews Chief Executive of Harlow Council:

2023-09-25 09:22:20

Bolderdash! It's all about profits developers aided by Epping and East Herts Council's getting development as far away from Hertford and Epping towns as possible, ticking boxes on meeting their housing targets, getting grants and Council tax income for themselves whilst overloading Harlow with traffic, pollution and population and at the expense of Harlow residents whist not caring about trashing our local environment with high rise flats, increased frequency of flooding and sewage discharges and, by sleight of hand, moving PAH several km out of town into Epping. Harlow Council have been absolutely duped.

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-25 09:50:38

I've never heard such nonsense in all my life,,, just words and more made up words... why don't you talk of what will actually happen...The truth... A destruction on a scale Harlow has never seen before, to out ecosystem s ,to our wildlife, our tress,the list goes on..You are building thousands upon thousands of unaffordable housing estates around our boarders, now tell people the truth,, we have all ready been told there's a significant drop in affordability, so don't talk about future generations... You all so talk of the old houses in Harlow, which I live in,, this house is solid, carnt even get a nail in wall,, so don't sit there telling us our homes are falling. It's just maintance that's failing, from our councils. How's theses project s going to benift Harlow, when all council tax goes to other councils, all we get is the disruption, and destruction.. Strange you never mention this.. I've heard nothing but trouble from theses new builds, damp ,cracking, that list goes on as well, so give me old build any day. Nonsense.

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-25 09:55:27


Kim Oconnor
2023-09-25 09:57:59


Kim Oconnor
2023-09-25 09:58:57


2023-09-25 11:54:41

Wow, talk about a script o delusion. Just a few points; "NP: I think it has been remarkable for five local authorities to come together in the way they have with the ambition to achieve beautiful, sustainable growth". If you look at out most recently matured developments, Church Langley and Newhall. Multiple councils with even more different developers. It's got to the point that if residents want something simple done, all involved say it's not them it's someone else and why are 5 authorities involved but Harlow, where most of these developments are, seem to either ignore it's residents or have no power to protect the residents? "Quality of place making and construction. One of the issues Harlow is facing now, alongside the other New Towns, is that much of what was built in the 60s/70s was poor quality.". Lie, ask any estate or letting agent and they will tell you ex council houses are in high demand as they have proper sized rooms and ample gardens, something new developments cannot say. I have to say that the two who you interviewed are either deluded or deliberately lying. How can building on green belt benefit harlow ? I rarely get angry about such articles but it's clear to me that there isan agender here and none of it will benefit the people of Harlow as once again, bordering councils are treating Harlow as their territory and our own council and mp, are working against the wishes of people in Harlow.

2023-09-25 16:55:40

Reading through the comments on here time and time again whenever this topic crops up. And yet to see anyone in support of the development. It is painfully obvious that the planners have not listened to the resident's of Harlow, but just pushed through their own agendas, without any proper consultation whatsoever. They call it consultation, but it is little more than a public relations exercise, so they can say people were consulted. But come election time and a few of our Councilors are in for a shock at the polling stations for letting this happen.

Kim Oconnor
2023-09-25 17:19:16

Your both absolutely right. Charlie, the last consultation at hearts for Gilston,, we weren't allowed in, we the green party had to sit in a room, watching meetings on screen..... says it all don't it.

Lorraine Doull
2023-09-26 08:58:06

Consultation on a done deal that saw our government sell existing residents down the river . They dress it up like we have a say but we do not

2023-10-01 21:43:04

You have it spot on Lorraine.

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