Plans for new cultural quarter near Harlow Playhouse set to be decided upon by council committee

News / Sun 7th Apr 2024 at 08:05am

A PLANNING application to build a multi-million pound extension to the Harlow Playhouse is set to be discussed at the planning committee this week.

The application states it is for: Redevelopment of land to the west of Harlow Playhouse,
including Occasio House, to provide a 2 no. storey detached extension to Harlow Playhouse to provide creative studios and performing arts space, music school and recording studio, cafe,
changing rooms and booking office.

An additional part 6 no. and part 5 no. storey building to provide flexible commercial and community floorspace at ground floor level (Use Class E and Use Class F.1/F.2) with residential flats above (Use Class C); together with landscaping, public realm improvements, improvement works to the Haydens Road subway, re-direction of College Gate and re-location of the taxi rank; and associated access and parking provision.


Four representations have been received and are summarised as follows:
 Public realm may worsen drug problems and anti-social behaviour.
 Dust and traffic may worsen during construction and post-development.
 Concerns about noise arising from commercial premises.
 Money could be spent on other infrastructure in Harlow.
 Lack of parking provision for new homes.
 Increase in height will cause privacy issues to Dads Wood.
 Loud music arising from site will cause amenity issues to nearby residents.
 Impact to St Paul’s Church – arrivals to front of church (e.g. limousines for funerals
and weddings), rear parking numbers and servicing.
 Poor access for emergency vehicles.
 Inadequate coach parking.
 Location of pocket park within the vicinity of the servicing road may cause safety


The meeting is set for Wednesday April 10th at the council chambers in The Water Gardens.

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33 Comments for Plans for new cultural quarter near Harlow Playhouse set to be decided upon by council committee:

Kim Oconnor
2024-04-07 08:17:10

😄 🤣 😂 here we go again.

James Leppard
2024-04-07 08:36:08

Kim O'Connor what is your problem now? This has specific grant finance awarded and also has been in the public domain for about a year, so don't come with the usual nonsense, "Residents would rather have an enchanted forest or a magic carpet transport system. This is wholly consistent with town centre regeneration, a cultural uplift, new music venue under the auspices of the Playhouse, an improved public realm, etc. etc. mmMany of the whinghers and detractors never come up with alternative feasible and viable plans.

Kim Oconnor
2024-04-07 08:45:01

Not nonsense, all I'm saying is,, seeing is believing.. Touchy arnt we.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-04-07 08:53:02

£20 Million spent. 1 Leaving the town with the smallest theatre in the region 2 A live music venue smaller that the demolished Square 3 A longer walk to the taxi rank, without any cover from the elements. 4 Little if any room for coaches to drop off visitors and turn round. 5 Until advised by the Harlow Alliance Party less parking spaces for disabled drivers than there is now. 6 Poor separation between pedestrians and vehicles. 7 Large sum of money building a new road and new paving. 8 View of the Playhouse as you enter or pass the Town Centre obstructed by a new building. 9 Yet more flats being crammed into the area. 10 Lack of parking for residents. 11 Noise issues for those living nearby. To be clear the Harlow Alliance Party have always opposed these plans. This part of the Town Centre is already one of the better entrances to the Town Centre, far better to have bought Market House and built new facilities there as part of the uplift needed to the north side including Market Square.

Kim Oconnor
2024-04-07 08:56:47

Well said Mr Taylor.

2024-04-07 09:23:23

Privacy issues,forget privacy in Harlow because that is a thing of the past.I just dont understand any of this to be honest.All i can see is a once great town being well and truly ruined. Be nice to see some green spaces instead of concrete.

2024-04-07 09:43:03

I thought the original plans included a maker space, something much better than the arts - engineering actually contributes to the UK economy and does not need continual government grants. It would be good to get people especially the next generation inspired to be engineers and Harlow has a rich history in this.

peter henegan
2024-04-07 09:58:48

I guess nothing is ever supported by everyone but it sounds far better than what we have now. I hope Adam's comment is reviewed. Cheryl, within half mile or so there are masses of green space. Is this a Conservative initiative or is it supported by Labour also

2024-04-07 10:11:09

Nice thought and make the area look good I presume, but it doesn't really help most folk in Harlow does it? It's a bit niche. Imo, far better something that helps more people, esp having commercial property up for rent underneath when the town centre has plenty of empty units already.

2024-04-07 10:43:13

Trace / Peter - If they put a maker space in I will gladly run groups on engineering, electronics, coding, etc to help encourage the kids into high tech industry (ignore the AI hype on replacing coders). I suspect I am not alone in doing this

peter henegan
2024-04-07 11:58:40

Adam, I am sure there is plenty of potential space around already. I suspect Robert Halfon would have an interest in this, hopefully you will hear something

Nicholas Taylor
2024-04-07 13:04:25

Adam, Trace and Peter, I think you are under a mis-apprehension as to what a makers space is. Space is already set aside in the Harvey Centre by the cinema on a regular basis for a makers market, for people putting up stalls who make things for the home and the like. These have been held in Market Square during periods of good weather in the hope that more people would visit that part of the Town Centre and the intention is to have them out doors in the cultural square. Looking at the sketches you would think this is a big area, when in fact it is tiny bearing in mind all the shrubbery and tress and the need to get vehicles to the church and Playhouse. This is why the Harlow Alliance have said all along that they should have made better use of Market Square and construct new buildings around it.

2024-04-07 13:13:09

You are right in saying that not everything is supported by everyone Peter henegan, but yes the idea of a music venue and all that sounds like it could bring some life back to this town,but judging by all the empty and half demolished buildings in Harlow right now,i dont hold out much hope of this happening,also i would not say there is masses of green space and what we do have left will gradually get eaten up by greedy developers.we are all entitled to our own views and opinions. Its just sad to see what harlow looks like today and what it has become.

Richard Adams
2024-04-07 13:13:56

I would agree with Adam about encouraging younger people to learn technical skills. Could the council allocate some of the empty commercial space into the Harvey Centre to set up something like a repair shed like other communities are setting up. Sounds like Adam's skills could be used here.

peter henegan
2024-04-07 14:12:17

Nicholas, I think Adam is looking at a much bigger picture than just a stall selling arty and crafty things. Hopefully he will clarify. Re the market square, I feel that as the focus of the town centre has moved southwards its long term future isn't bright. Of course, replacing PAH with houses will bring an influx of people to that side of the town in 2030s. Perhaps it should be dug up and turned into a park.

2024-04-07 16:08:39

Kim O . Before you post your stupid remarks , make sure you know what your talking about . JL is wiping the floor with you.

2024-04-07 16:30:37

Nicholas - I had in mind something like this https://www.makerspaces.com/what-is-a-makerspace/ which is more than market space but it is not a commonly used terms hence confusion. This town has a great heritage of engineering it is one of the reasons I ended up here 20+ years ago. We should leverage that. I doubt I will hear anything from the council I am a little hard on politicians

2024-04-07 16:31:07

An opportunity is being missed, it's so sad the Playhouse will remain so small, and disappointing that the live music space is so small. It's not too late for an imaginative leadership to ensure these venues are made large enough to be at least regionally important.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-04-07 16:38:56

Peter, what I was saying is what the council means when it says a makers space for the area in front of the Playhouse. This whole area is being promoted as a cultural square and whilst I agree that training for young people is very desirable I don't think providing space for such facilities in what is primarily a shopping centre a good idea. Harlow College do of course have the multi million pound Harlow Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Centre nearby. As things stand Market house is to be turned into flats with another storey on top and Adams House is going to have another storey on top of that. there is also planning permission for another block behind Market House. I am afraid that the loss of 3500 staff at PAH and the thousands of visitors each week will never be replaced by building 450 homes on the present site.

Peter Henegan
2024-04-07 18:34:38

Nicholas, the staff will still have to live somewhere. I havent seen anything that assesses the impact on the town centre. I have never understood how the town centre could be developed until the hospital decision was confirmed. However this playhouse development does seem to add something even if its not perfect for everyone

2024-04-07 18:40:55

I think the playhouse development is a step in the right direction. The Harlow facilites are great we have been working with their students to build a small satellite

David Forman
2024-04-07 21:21:21

For Nicholas Taylor, during Jon Clempner's reign as Labour council leader consultants were asked to assess the viability of the Playhouse. Their conclusion was that due to its rather small size it actually fell between two stools. For the record, you can blame the Labour Party for a theatre that is not big enough to attract travelling West End shows. A bit of history on the Playhouse from Bill Rammell MP follows: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1998/jul/07/harlow-playhouse

2024-04-07 21:33:08

A long standing set of problems that the Playhouse is too small and access difficult for large sets and that the replacement for the Square is too small. (It doesn't look like it could support a group like Rock School) These factors threaten the viability of each venue. Building residential units next to a loud music venue next to a small enclosed isolated where groups, (like those who make the Market Square difficult to like), hang out seems a recipe for disaster.

David Forman
2024-04-07 21:57:24

I'm pleased Nostradamus mentioned "access difficult" and Nicholas Taylor mentioned "view of the Playhouse". The Council's theatre consultants report from September 2015 on pages 15 says: "Unfortunately the addition of the Harvey Centre, in the late 1970s, has both dwarfed and isolated the Playhouse, leaving it on the fringes of a new town centre that is at odds with Frederick Gibberd's master plan for the area." On P.16: "The addition of the Harvey Centre has ensured that it is no longer possible to reverse a 15m articulated trailer into the service yard; the largest vehicle that can be accommodated is 7.5T rigid body..."15m trailers are required to offload and load through the Rik Mayall shutter via a rolling platform. This necessitates a dog leg turn which some longer items cannot negotiate." See the edited report for the public at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&opi=89978449&url=https://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/documents/s6106/HARLOW%2520PLAYHOUSE%2520FUTURES%2520EVALUATION%2520REVISED%2520REPORT%2520SEPTEMBER%25202015.FOR%2520EXTERNAL%2520ISSUE.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiK7an3hLGFAxVza0EAHawkBKgQFnoECB8QAQ&usg=AOvVaw0O-qL5y4cf_i3KdjJPeTTV

David Forman
2024-04-07 22:09:35

The Council's theatre consultants report on page 17 explains the issue with the auditorium: "The theatre is generally accepted to be of an unusual design. The design attempted to create a hybrid format that combined an end-on format on a single rake, with a Guthrie style three-quarter thrust established by removing seats from row A to row F and filling in to create a flat floor. The design fails to execute either successfully, with a disconnection between the side seating and the rest of the house." An earlier 2014 consultants report argued for several changes including "adding an upper level", but the 2015 report concludes: "however, the increase in seat count to around 700 still fails to move the Playhouse into the realm of the truly commercial receiving venue and consequently there is no compelling argument for pursuing it. We understand that the recommendations of the Charcoalblue (2014) report, and the earlier Ancer Spa (2010) report into a 1500 seat replacement for the Playhouse, have been dismissed on financial grounds." So, blame the Labour Party for a theatre that is 'neither fish nor fowl' as the saying goes.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-04-07 23:04:15

Thanks for the research David. Now of course the plan is to plonk a new building about 50 yards in front of the Playhouse, obscuring it from view to all but those standing in the new cultural Square. We should all remember that the Playhouse was opened in the early 1970's at a time when it and the towns infrastructure was designed for a population of about 60,000. Fifty years on it is already over 90,000 and set to increase to about 140,000 within a 3 mile radius of the Town Centre. The money being spent on the cultural square and the bus station would have been better spent building a whole new leisure and cultural complex around Market Square.

2024-04-08 07:10:32

The playhouse has always been a centre for debate, it has a full size stage with pros of size found in most west end thestres, it has a comprehensive fly floor and facilities, yet would never support a major touring artist or show. Why? It's massively limited by ticket sales opportunities per show due to its lack of seats front for house. Very few shows of size would even break even on a 1-2 night show. For larger shows there is direct access to stage level between the playhouse and the church, enough to reverse an artic up. For some reason people think massive spaces are needed, but looks at most theatres in the west end down single one way lanes, it's amazing where some of the skilled drivers can get articulated trucks into. Reviewing the comments about loud music and noise. Insulation has done wonders for likes of the Katherines common room where rock school are located and play. The old square was relatively well exposed yet created little noise disruption. There are enough big buildings around the area where if careful placement was considered could be used as natural baffles. Like Adam, I run an electronics company in Harlow which concentrates on repair and support some household name artists nationally and internationally. It would be great to recognise Harlow for it's pioneers and establish as a grass roots hardcore engineering town. For crying out loud Harlow is linked to the development of fibre optic cabling used by everybody and most distance data transfers. The irony is that much of this area was a technical site for the college once upon a time.

2024-04-08 07:51:48

Nicholas Taylor, am not under a mis-apprehension of what a makers space is, as I never mentioned it, nor is it in the article. Always good to read properly!

Nicholas Taylor
2024-04-08 07:58:50

Sorry Trace, I thought your post agreeing with Adams referred to the issue of makers markets and training which he had referred to.

2024-04-08 11:37:51

The biggest opportunity to improve the town has been missed, Sir Fredrick Gibards plan for the arts quarter of the town was originally planned to be the whole of the West square (where the old odeon cinema stands in an unsafe state). And the council can impose safety inspections on any buildings if they have cause to believe that they pose a potential risk to the public, the owners of the properties can be billed for the inspections and the inspections can be carried out several times in each year, compulsory purchase orders can be used to bring effected sites back into public ownership. Maybe the council should go down this route to make a real difference to the town.

2024-04-08 19:49:00

So all the hype about what was happening to that area was just that…it hadn’t been decided all along. Is the money we were told was already in place for its development actually there or is that just more hype. It was sold to us as a done deal…now 🤷‍♂️

2024-04-09 05:33:25

Cheryl. I think your find Peter Henegan was talking about digging up Market Square for park not hospital. Perhaps he will conform.

Keith Elliot
2024-04-09 11:28:37

Told me in hub was going ahead? Do not waste money on pretty drawings before you decide and get the basic stuff done before all this like cracks in pavements where people full over crack there head be a start

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