Blog by Cllr Linda Haysey, Leader of East Herts District Council and a voting member of the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town Board.

The opportunities that will arrive with Harlow & Gilston Garden Town are going to be quite extraordinary and East Herts, along with our four council partners on this project, are all working towards making it an attractive, thriving and desirable place to live.

It will start with the 10,000 home Gilston development and filter through into our established communities with Harlow regenerating its town centre at the same time.

And as Harlow evolves and grows, so will the seven villages that make up the new Gilston development, meaning we have to remain flexible with policies that are both robust and sturdy and capable of change when change is necessary.

There’s no doubt that COVID has made us look at things differently, particularly in terms of home working and travelling short distances to town or village centres, and being able to get to places on bike, bus and foot.

We have to be very conscious that transport in particular will change over the next 20 years and our attitudes to it will change as well.

Our five council partnership strongly believe that all the developers need to use the principles of Garden Town development, as laid out by the Town and Country Planning Association.

It really does create great places and, with great places where people want to live, you get great communities with a mixture of green infrastructure, blue infrastructure, allotments, places to meet, playgrounds, trees and enhanced biodiversity.

It all adds up to making people feel good and wanting to be out and connecting with the community and environment when the sun is shining.

Harlow & Gilston Garden Town has also been recognised by Government with public engagement funding for almost £230,000 which is a phenomenal amount and means that we can do some really great work this summer with people who wouldn’t normally engage with us.

And we also need to work very closely  with young people locally, because they will be the ones living in the Garden Town communities, raising families of their own and reaping the benefits that will come with this exciting growth and regeneration.

It was not an easy decision to take Gilston out of the green belt but it was an area that had been marked up for potential development many years ago, well before the Garden Town.

A lot of people still don’t like that decision but we have to accept that development has to happen in Herts and Essex and across the South-East because people need housing.

We have been working closely with local people over the last few years and that will continue as we want everyone connected with these new communities to be involved in creating places we can all be proud of.

You have to develop that level of trust between us all to make sure that we get it right otherwise you end up with, as I’ve said in many public meetings, rubbish housing and that is not acceptable.

Let’s remember that with these new neighbourhoods will come outstanding new infrastructure and a once in a lifetime opportunity to put the area on the map in terms of job opportunities, buying a house and raising a family.

That’s the biggest criticism of local planning, where’s the infrastructure? And we were fortunate enough to get £172 million from Government which means we can get infrastructure allocated and in place like new schools, hospitals, sustainable transport links and amenities, all delivered within four new self-sustaining neighbourhoods.

You could say that it is human nature to resist change and the plans for the new River Stort crossings caused a lot of controversy which is understandable.

But our council partnership and the highway authorities for both Herts and Essex have worked together to ensure minimal impact for wildlife and biodiversity gains and measures for that area.

There has also been a mind shift over COVID, particularly young people who may not be able to drive or may not be able to afford a car. Some will think it’s not right to even own a car.

So we have to help the next generation by putting infrastructure in place so they don’t have to own a car and promote different ways of travel to give freedom of choice. We’ll see that with the enhancements to the Central Stort Crossing prioritising buses, walking and cycling.

With this comes a greater emphasis on being responsible for your own health; we know there’s a shortage of GP surgeries currently so the new Garden Town neighbourhoods will have these, and they will complement the acute facilities at the new Princess Alexandra Hospital in East Harlow.

So let’s be clear, the Garden Town isn’t about tacking new builds onto an existing town or village. It is a long term development with exciting benefits for both existing residents and those that choose to move to Harlow & Gilston.

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