The Designation of Harlow
The 6,400 acres which formed the site of Harlow New Town lay west of the existing village of Harlow and south of both the Stort Navigation and the main line of the London and North Eastern Railway. About 2,500 people lived in the villages of Harlow and Potter Street, and about 2,000 in the hamlets of Great Parndon, Netteswell, Burnt Mill, and in scattered farm cottages. Many of the local landowners were bitterly opposed to the idea of 60,000 people being parachuted into their corner of the world from the East End of London, along with the 20,000 houses that would be needed to accommodate them. They, and many of the local shopkeepers, joined together to create the Harlow and District Defence Association in 1946 to fight the proposal. Their negative view was countered by an opposing group that had the support of the local Labour Party and the local MP, Leah Manning, who staunchly defended both the New Towns Act and also the choice of Harlow over Ongar as the most appropriate site for a new town in this part of Essex. The success of the campaign she waged in Westminster on behalf of those who believed the creation of a new town would give them a reasonable chance to better their lot was assured when many of the local shopkeepers began to recognize the economic benefits that a new town could bring, and dropped their opposition.
The New Towns were an important part of the new government’s policy, and the objections of the landowners were futile. However, the dislike of the new town and the suspicion that it would continue to expand into the surrounding agricultural areas are as present today as they were more than a half-century ago. A decade-long struggle to expand the boundaries of the town to provide housing for the second generation came to naught in 1974 in the face of vigorous opposition from surrounding councils although two new neighbourhoods (Sumners and Katherines) were built on the west side of the town in the mid-1970s. The addition of 3,500 homes in Church Langley between 1986 and 2001, and the subsequent development of New Hall met with unsuccessful opposition, and the recently-approved, but not-yet-undertaken plan to build 1,200 new houses along Marsh Lane, east of Old Harlow and on the doorstep of the Gibberd Garden is still a source of animosity among those who see such developments as antithetical to the original ideas behind the plan for Harlow. They are also considered a threat to the farmland which surrounds Harlow, and was intended to serve as a green belt to prevent future expansion of the town. However, if the town is to grow, and if planning permission to extend its boundary into the metropolitan green belt is not obtained, the new development which the central government has said must occur in this area, will have to occur in the green wedges that separate the neighbourhoods. This would do serious damage to the basic philosophy behind Gibberd’s plan.
The alternative is to develop areas outside Harlow's boundaries, but there is widespread opposition to any such suggestion. More than a decade ago proposals were unveiled for a development of 10,000 new homes in 'Harlow North', across the Stort in Hertfordshire, on farmland around Gilston and High Wych, and on Hunsdon airfield. They have been vigorously opposed ever since. In December 2016 East Herts Council approved plans for the development, now called 'Gilston Park Estate' and incorporated them in its draft local plan. Opposition to the development continues unabated, and at the time of writing (June, 2018) the plan has still not been adopted. The proposal can be seen at <http://gilstonparkestate.com>