Harlow Council has submitted its bid to the government for £20m to regenerate Playhouse Square and College Square in Harlow town centre.

Harlow has made a bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund to support the area’s transformation into a vibrant Arts and Cultural quarter. The plans for the area, which were originally unveiled last June, have been updated and improved using feedback from the government and the public.

The vision for the two squares is to create and develop an Arts and Cultural Quarter, bringing together a diverse range of artistic, entertainment, cultural and heritage disciplines to establish a regional hub of innovative and engaging events and activities.

Extensive public consultation on the proposals has taken place with over 55,000 individuals and 130 stakeholders given the opportunity to comment. A recent online survey attracted over 240 responses and 499 comments were made through social media. There is strong support for the scheme with the new proposals receiving increased backing from the public. The bid proposals have also received the support of key organisations, businesses, and stakeholders. Some of the responses from the most recent consultation included:

“This is a really exciting proposal and one that would revive part of the town centre that is currently underutilised.”

“Investing in opportunities in the Arts for young people and all ages can only have benefits for the local community and surrounding areas.”

“There is a clear need to enhance the economic and socio heart of Harlow and we consider this Levelling Up Fund application to be a critical catalyst to the next stage of the town’s investment.”

“Make this happen! The town is in desperate need of an injection of investment.”

“This proposal will give the Playhouse and its surroundings additional 21st century attractions in a friendly multi-purpose style, increasing the appeal inclusively while benefiting all the town centre.”

The Iconic buildings – the Playhouse Theatre and St Paul’s Church – will remain at the heart of the new quarter. Harlow Arts and Cultural Quarter will see brand new:

  • Live music and performance venue (including music school and recording studio)
  • Contemporary bar and café
  • Artist and maker studio spaces
  • Flexible studios for creative and performing arts, rehearsal space, events, smaller and outdoor performances, and community uses
  • Art gallery and associated spaces for literary arts, spoken word, education events and visiting exhibitions and installations

In addition, the scheme will provide:

  • New pedestrian focused and engaging public square for events, outdoor performances, cinema, and outdoor dining
  • Green pocket park with natural play installations
  • Accessibility provisions including disabled parking and accessibly designed spaces
  • Upgraded and secure underpass beneath Haydens Road
  • Residential units at the previous Occasio House site
  • Improved taxi rank/drop-off provision & sustainable travel features

The scheme will establish a new gateway destination that Harlow can be proud off and link The Water Gardens and Harvey Centre via the Arts and Cultural quarter. A new board will be established to bring a programme of exciting events to the Town attracting a diverse range of visitors from all ages and communities.

Councillor Dan Swords, Deputy Leader of Harlow Council, said: “I am delighted that we have submitted our new improved bid to the government for the transformation of Playhouse Square and College Square.

“Our updated plan follows feedback from the government who have invited us to resubmit our bid for the next phase of the Levelling Up Fund. Our plan for the Harlow Arts and Culture quarter is about creating a vibrant new quarter of the town centre bringing together the arts, culture, live music, and events.

“From recent consultation there is clear public and stakeholder backing for our plans which can only strengthen our bid. These plans are all part of what we aim to deliver for the complete regeneration of Harlow town centre and there will be more announcements to be made in the coming weeks and months. We have already secured government funding for a new bus station and improvements to Broad Walk and we will be bringing forward other plans in the near future.”

The updated Levelling Up bid just focusses on the regeneration of Playhouse Square and College Square. Proposals for the redevelopment of Market Square were part of the original bid submitted last year. The council remains committed to the regeneration of Market Square and will be unveiling plans for the northern part of the town centre including Market Square later this year.