Letter to Editor: Leader of Harlow Council: A review of our progress to deliver your priorities in 2023

News / Sun 31st Dec 2023 at 08:14pm

Dear Editor,

WHEN I became leader of Harlow Council, I set out five priorities for this financial year. As 2023 draws to a close and with three months of the financial year left, I wanted to report on the progress we have made.

When I announced those priorities, I said there was no politics, no tricks or ambiguity – just five clear priorities so you could hold me directly accountable for what we are delivering for you.

Photo: Brian Thomas Photography

This has only been possible thanks to a fantastic Cabinet, hardworking ward councillors, brilliant council staff and the remarkable work of Robert Halfon MP in Parliament to champion Harlow and secure so much investment into our town.

So here is a review of our progress on those five priorities:

Priority 1: Fix council housing by clearing the backlog in housing repairs so your home is fixed quickly and ensuring Harlow’s council homes are for Harlow families.

Progress on priority 1:
Cleared 90% of the backlog in housing repairs and ahead of target to clear the entire backlog in this financial year.
Reduced the average wait for a housing repair from 270 days to 60 days and we are on track to reduce that to below 30 days by the end of the financial year.
Cut the average turnaround time on empty homes from 60 days to 20 days meaning more council homes available quicker.
Introduced an annual Tenancy Audit of every council home to ensure we are providing the best possible service and meeting every tenant in their home.
Commenced a 100% specialist stock condition survey of every council home to significantly improve our planned maintenance of properties.
Proposed the most significant overhaul of our Housing Allocations Policy to potentially double the time an applicant must have lived in Harlow to access council housing, giving priority for residents born in Harlow and driving out the injustices in the current policy to ensure local council homes go to local families.
Invested over £85 million into our council homes and housing services over the last six months.

On our priority to fix council housing, we are delivering.

Priority 2: Restore pride in Harlow by tackling the issues in your street with better landscape maintenance, new estate car parking, estate replanting and, by working with Essex County Council; fix the potholes, street signs, railings and street furniture.

Progress on priority 2:
Overhauled our landscape maintenance meaning grass and hedges are cut better and more often, strimmed and cleaned up at the same time meaning much improved maintenance of our green spaces.
Radically changed our street cleansing service meaning bins are emptied more often, leaves, litter and fly tipping cleared more quickly and roads swept more regularly.
Audited every single street name sign in the town with over 2,300 bent, broken, faded, rusty and outdated signs being replaced with brand new ones.
Restored some of Harlow’s most precious heritage signs and assets.
Kickstarted full estate replanting in some of the most left-behind estates, clearing all existing landscaping and replacing it with refreshed and renewed plant beds and greenery.
Began a programme of totally renewing our infamous roundabouts – in some cases totally clearing everything from them to start again.
Introduced a neighbourhood renewal programme to renew every hatch in the town – most of which haven’t been maintained in decades.
Rolling out a huge neighbourhood parking programme to create hundreds of new parking spaces in our neighbourhoods.
Worked with Essex County Council to fill more potholes than ever before in Harlow and fix and change over 90% of our street lights to LEDs.
Introduced a townwide programme to remove rusty, broken, bent and redundant posts, left behind roadworks signs, broken railings and much else that clutters our roadsides.

On our priority to restore pride in Harlow, we are delivering.

Priority 3: Rebuild our town by transforming the town centre with a once-in-a-generation programme of regeneration, building new council homes for Harlow families and reviving left-behind neighbourhoods.

Progress on priority 3:

Seen construction work for the town centre regeneration underway – which had been promise for decades – backed by hundreds of millions of pounds of investment with planning granted, demolitions and construction work underway with work set to significantly ramp up in this financial year.
Rocket-boosted Phase 1 of our Council House Building Programme to ensure that we had all 11 schemes on site before Christmas building high-quality council homes for local families and regenerating left-behind neighbourhoods.
Created and signed the agreement for the groundbreaking Harlow Regeneration Partnership with Hill Group which will transform our town with developments already underway.
Brought forward transformative new planning policy to further attract high-quality development into Harlow.
Acquired more key strategic sites to ensure we redevelop the whole town centre whole and complete.

On our priority to rebuild our town, we are delivering.

Priority 4: Secure investment into Harlow to back local businesses, improve our infrastructure and create jobs and apprenticeships to grow Harlow’s economy.

Progress on priority 4:

Created a new Discover Harlow place narrative and branding with an investment prospectus to be launched at UKREIFF.
Launched an SME support package and website to back our local employers and grow the local economy.
Secured millions more investment into the Harlow Innovation Park attracting some big new names to town and creating a thriving park of enterprise and innovation.
Agreed a £1.3 billion infrastructure package as part of the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town.
Brought forward key infrastructure upgrades to unlock investment and create more jobs and apprenticeships such as the Institute of Technology at Harlow College and the Cambridge Road junction to unlock Templefields.

On our priority to secure investment into Harlow, we are delivering.

Priority 5: Improve council services to ensure Harlow Council truly works for you, providing you the very best and most efficient services for the lowest possible council tax and making Harlow a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Progress on priority 5:

Rooted out waste in the council and frozen Harlow Council Tax in 2023 when nearly every other council has raised it.
Genuinely transformed the way the council operates which has been recognised by the Local Government Association as “one of the biggest transformations seen in a council in six months”.
Put evidence and benchmarking at the heart of new transparent decision making process so that residents can see how their money is spent.
Brought forward a plan to move to four-year all-up election cycles to save the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds and improve the way the Council is run.
Radically reformed our wholly-owned maintenance company with new management, processes, governance, structure and much more which has seen customer satisfaction skyrocket to 98%.
Reformed our financial and performance management to ensure transparency, effiency and more timely decision making are at the heart of the operation.
Slashed call waiting times, improved on nearly every performance measure of our council services and ran a significant residents’ survey to ensure residents’ views are at the heart of our decisions.
Introduced the first ever ‘Meet the Leader’ sessions for residents to meet me directly and raise their issues with me face to face.
Invested over £150 million into providing better local services.
Introduced targeted action and operations with the police to crack down on antisocial behaviour and crime across the town.
Become the first council ever in the UK to bring forward legal action against national developers for failing to deliver their promises to Gilden Park residents.

On our priority to improve council services, we are delivering.

2023 has been a year of getting things done and putting Harlow on the road to a brighter future. But this is just the start, 2024 will be a year of transformation and renewal.

And with that, I wish every resident a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kind regards,

Cllr Dan Swords

Leader of Harlow Council

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24 Comments for Letter to Editor: Leader of Harlow Council: A review of our progress to deliver your priorities in 2023:

2023-12-31 20:21:35

What's happening to the derelict Odeon and Little Walk, or to the area between the Harvey Centre and Odeon that was razed to the ground a couple of years ago?

Tim the Turtle
2023-12-31 21:07:36

Let us hope and pray that the New Year will bring increasing satisfaction to all of the residents of the Town and it's visitors.

Luke Burton
2023-12-31 21:32:10

Interested to hear what this town centre regeneration is about. I only visit Harlow now every few months and I haven't seen any new construction around the bus station, the Ocassio House site, the area around the old Odeon / Dominos Pizza. Curious what the new parking improvements are too - whenever I drive down residential areas there still seems to be a chronic shortage of parking. I will say though the council has done a good job with the roundabout for the retail park - but I do hope they protest to Essex CC that the traffic management in that entire area is not at all fit for purpose. Another question I have is what is the definition of 'backlog' w.r.t. repairs - I ask as in some disciplines, simply moving a task/ticket from the 'backlog' to an 'in progress' bucket counts as clearing it - this means potentially very little work has been done despite the backlog being reduced. The Meet the Leader sessions sound like a good idea - what was the turnout/is there a transcript of Q&A? Finally, I do not necessarily agree local government is that effective (especially with how little devolution there is) but for the sake of the town I grew up in I wish the administration every success in meeting what are ambitious priorities.

2024-01-01 02:59:31

Maybe you could achieve more if your councillors actually attended council meetings or has LeMay some kind of influence?

gary roberts
2024-01-01 07:01:55

Is Cllr. Swords the new Robert Halfon? All photo shoot and verbiage. For example, "regenerating left-behind neighbourhoods." Which ones? Potter Street has gained a car park next to, and between, four housing communities and Osler House has/will be sold. Is that what you meant by regeneration of left behind neighbourhoods? What about "improving local council services," when will that happen? Apparently they are improving: where? As I said, all verbiage and presentation but no substance. A bit like your mentor Mr. Halfon.

2024-01-01 10:17:58

You have said that priority 2 of landscape maintence of grass cutting & hedge trimming/cutting have been executed to make Harlow a better place. Well grass cutting maybe but hedges definitely not. These hedges have not been cut back at all for over a year at sumners & it looks a terrible sight. So do the trees where they need cutting back too. Why is it that the main avenues way in & way out are maintained but rest is left to "rewinding" Right now hedges & trees have lost their leaves which all looks unkempt HTS think that's the answer until spring starts when the trees & hedges begin to grow again but all the dead stuff still here. Therefore will look a damsite worse when hedges & trees begin to grow again in spring To have well maintained hedges , trees, grass etc they ALL need cutting back regularly to make them look healthy & a lush green ....HTS have only done grass cutting. So what you have said is a lie Mr Dan Swords. Please tell me when sumners will be maintained as last year all year round apart from grass cutting has not be maintained. It was so overgrown you could not see where you were going, could not see over under or around any of these hedges& trees . It really does need attending.

2024-01-01 10:18:00

Fair is fair, there are, and have been real improvements under Mr Swords oversight. This is thanks to the obvious energy and drive sadly lacking in previous party predecessors. For that you should be commended. However, I could not extend that to Mr Halfon and his government.. Anything you have achieved is despite their shameful performance and I hope people remember that when the election is called. Wishing the people of Harlow a very happy New Year.

2024-01-01 11:55:08

How does Harlow homes for Harlow families work when private money is being used to build these places and then they sell to the highest bidder?

2024-01-01 12:31:15

About time the bit from little walk towards NatWest is bulldozed and rebuilt, only the scruffy/crappy polish supermarket and Specsavers there, all relocated inc Lloyds, why would Lloyds relocate if nothing something with, it all needs bulldozing and rebuilding to smarten up! Also, council needs to crack on with Davood Ghadami (holby city actor) and family to come together and agree a good price from both sides to secure land so that can be bulldozed to re build n smarten that side up-looks like council are trying to buy too cheap!!!

2024-01-01 13:20:00

Open your eyes Dan Swords,i am a female pedestrian living in Harlow and it has become almost unbearable for me to live here,my birthplace,my hometown for nearly 60 years. The vehicle situation is horrendous, we now have big 4x4,s using the cycle tracks as car parks and i have also been riding my bike on the cycle track with a car driving towards me.Absolutely shocking and not to mention the bloody dangers. The amount of work vehicles that are parking in our housing estates is a total disgrace,transit vans,small lorries,cars everywhere,on pavements and junctions and on the grass totaly turning the fields into sinking mud pits and leaving this sloppy mud all over the pavements,which is a danger in itself. The pavements are broken and cycle tracks are sinking and cracked and full of potholes and it is a total disaster. I am entitled to a decent quality of life and i should be able to walk feely on the pavements but that has become almost impossible.I nearly had a branch go into my eye a couple of days ago due to the overgrown bushes. For me to walk anywhere now is a nightmare. Sort out the real problems and dangers and stop focusing on newbuilds and bloody fix what is broken,also open your eyes and see the damage to the pavements where yet more new homes are to be built in Arkwrights,ehat a mess,holes everywhere and broken kerbstones and mud and vehicles on the pavement. You should be ashamed. Do you realize that pedestrians and cyclists do livein Harlow and that not everyone drives?????? I am angry at how bad this town has become. You will never ever restore pride in Harlow,its much to late for that,it is far to overpopulated andfar to many vehicles in a town the size of Harlow.So very sad.

Ineeda P
2024-01-01 14:14:37

I want to laugh, but I dont have a Tena lady on!!

2024-01-01 15:06:29

Why hqve you not put my comment on here????

2024-01-01 15:09:25

Why have you deleted my earlier comment?????

2024-01-01 15:16:07

I have seen no change at all. As for building more parking spaces,by that you mean take away yet more of our green spaces and yet less places to walk. The town is fast becoming very very claustraphobic.Disgusting.

2024-01-01 17:45:26

Nick - this is what's in store for that block eventually (with, I think, some kind of parking in the space adjacent to the old Odeon) - https://strawberrystar.co.uk/developments/harlow-quarter-essex/

Tim the Turtle
2024-01-01 17:58:40

Dear Dan, Last year saw the first Harlow Pride event and I want to do my bit to help make Harlow a place to be proud of. As JFK almost said "Don't ask what your town can do for you but what can you do for your town?" I am on the case. Happy New Year Harlow.

Tim the Turtle
2024-01-01 18:28:32

Tim the Turtle Diary. January 1st 2024. 52 pieces of redundant street materials removed.

Chris Lions
2024-01-01 19:11:32

I suggest counsellors dig deep into the data they are being given HTS. Residents are being fobbed off with temporary repairs or even works being cancelled.

2024-01-02 10:34:22

What is the point of leaving a comment when we take the time to do so. We also must be interested of where we live & what's happening or we wouldn't want to comment. BUT it seems like you cherry pick the comments only you want to print that suit you. There are some really strong comments sometimes yet every time I make an interest you do not print!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You probably really anger a lot of people not just me.

2024-01-02 11:24:01

Dan Swords are you aware of the state of the older housing estates in this town? For me to just walk to Harlow Town Centre a 20 minute walk,is an absolute nightmare,i have to deal with broken pavements,broken kerbstones that are seperated from the pavements,holes in the pavements,overgrown bushes that nearly take your eyes out,cars on the pavement,cars reversing off their hardstanding without looking,vans and cars parked on bends and junctions,pot holes in the roads and then the dirty wheelie bins abd food caddys left in the middle of the pavements,and today will be the same. Dont ignore this just because it does not affect you. Focus on the real issues and problems in Harlow instead of creating many more problems.

Ritch smith
2024-01-04 19:42:12

Can’t wait for our new friends from Newham to join our community, I’m sure they will contribute and bring a part of their culture to our once beautiful town

2024-01-07 15:35:34

Has the council considered not knocking down the old Burnt Mill school building now? Since the new Sir Fredrick Gibberd Cardboard college is now to be demolished before it has even opened! Don't they need the classrooms still? Since it was clearly built by competent people and would stand for another 50 years if left alone and not by a building firm run by Billy the Kid! Still I expect there was plenty of money for kickbacks, and what's the education of our children compared to funding another "jolly" to Vagas or some such place?

2024-01-08 15:13:11

The finest example of hogwash I've read for sometime.

Kim Oconnor
2024-01-10 12:03:48

It's all about regeneration regeneration. While the rest of Harlow falls apart.

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