Housing association giant to build six ’villages’ outside Harlow new town as part of wider 23,000-home expansion

Housing association giant Places for People has received approval for its landmark plans for an 8,500-home urban extension to Harlow.

The £3.5bn Gilston Villages proposal was approved by East Herts Council last week, the largest single application to have ever been considered by the council since its formation in 1974.

The development forms the first part of a wider 23,000-home Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, which is designed to extend the 1950s Essex-new town on four sides.

The Gilston part of the extension has been long contested as it lies outside of Harlow’s jurisdiction, over the River Stort and into East Hertfordshire.

HARLOW_Gilston Villages CGI

Places for People’s plan for the Gilston Villages development (CGI for illustrative purposes only)

Places for People was forced by the creation of a neighbourhood plan by residents in the area to split the 8,500 homes across six separate villages, rather than put them in an existing single large extension in the 1,000 ha site. The villages will also house six primary schools, two secondary schools, healthcare facilities and 29,000 sq m of employment space. Around 2,000 homes will be built as affordable housing.

A further 1,500-home application for a separate village as part of the overall 10,000-home Gilston plan, being promoted on a site owned by Taylor Wimpey, is yet to be determined.

The organisation promoting the wider Harlow and Gilston Garden Town said the decision by East Herts councillors would trigger a £90m infrastructure investment across the Harlow area – including money to revamp Harlow’s dilapidated town centre.

Naisha Pollaine, director of the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town (HGGT), said it was the most significant housing decision in the area since Sir Frederick Gibberd’s plans for the Harlow new town were approved over 75 years ago.

“With Harlow Council having secured the funding for Town Centre regeneration, the door of opportunity is now wide open for the local area in terms of transformative development, investment, commerce, employment, retail and leisure.”

Place for People said it would invest £900m beyond housing in transport infrastructure, public open space, new habitats for wildlife, sports facilities, schools, healthcare centres and other facilities.

Places for People said it will now work with HGGT to finalise the Section 106 legal agreement, and with architects JTP and landscape architects Grant Associates, to progress the masterplan for the first village, which will include around 1,800 homes. It will also look to bring forward the Strategic Landscape Masterplan covering over 500 hectares of landscape design. 

Adrian Bohr, chief executive of Places for People Developments, said: “Our proposals for Gilston Park Estate clearly demonstrate what sets Places for People apart. We’re not just another volume housebuilder, we are committed to adding lasting social value to the communities we build to make them the very best for the people who will live, work and visit them. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly.”

Leader of East Herts Council, Linda Haysey, said the decision was the result of a five-council partnership to “bring a vision to life for a new community at Harlow & Gilston”.

She said: “The decision taken by councillors today is a significant step towards ensuring our next generation can live and raise families of their own in East Herts.

“I understand residents will have concerns about the impact of development on this scale, but with that scale comes the investment needed to provide the new services and facilities that build sustainable communities.”

The leader of Harlow Council, Cllr Russell Perrin, said he was “delighted” at the news, but was likewise mindful of residents’ concerns. He said: “This point in time has been years in the making.

“We do recognise there are concerns about impacts to the environment and local infrastructure.”

“The development will come with significant areas of green space with community and country parks and there will be green ‘buffer zones’ separating the villages.”