Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Ron Bill (NT 06)

  As an introductory note I am pleased to say that I was a member of staff of Harlow Development Corporation for 11 years and latterly, until retirement, 21 years with Harlow Council. As Chair of the HDC "former staff" association I have about 250 names listed—including many who still reside in the town and would, if approached, be able to relate their individual experiences.

  Many of us resident in the town—and believing in local democracy, found the Development Corporation set up as autocratic with little local accountability. This did change to some extent post 1964 when local authority nominees were recommended to the Minister who appointed some to the HDC Board. I think on mature reflection that many people would now accept that the Corporation needed overall planning and development powers to get the job done. I think there were some errors. In the early years housing management was evicting families owing as little as four weeks rent (about £6.50) they then went into Social Service Part III accommodation at a much higher public cost. A much more important local matter was the problem of trying to ensure that education provision kept pace with incoming population. This was never achieved and suggests to me that perhaps the Corporations should have been able to provide capital or to build schools—perhaps for later transfer to the county councils.

  In his Master Plan for Harlow, Sir Frederick Gibberd said that the buildings would be "fitted into the shape of the land, and into the existing pattern of woods, lanes, brooks, hedges and trees". The landscaped design he said "would have its own existence but, `with the buildings' would weld them into a coherent whole".

  With the splendid work of Dame Sylvia Crowe as landscape architect, this plan and vision was successfully achieved. The Master Planner saw the landscape of the town as a vital and integral part of the whole environment and this created a green and pleasant town. Unfortunately, in recent years with cut backs on landscape maintenance it is no longer being maintained to its original high standards. The pressure on building land is causing infilling of green spaces and eroding the carefully conceived ratios of housing densities and open space provision.

  Harlow, like the other 1947 new towns, failed to provide for the phenomenal increase in car ownership but, even so, blocks of garages—unused despite heavy parking congestion on estate roads, are currently being demolished for housing development. Obviously today's motorists need parking adjacent to dwellings and presumably revised planning needs will ensure that drivers do not have to walk too far!

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Prepared 16 April 2002