Harlow was designated a New Town shortly after World War II, to meet the huge demand for housing in the South East following the devastation caused in London by the Blitz.
The original Master Plan for the town, drawn up by Sir Frederick Gibberd in 1947, included an abundance of green spaces, an extensive cycle route network, and cutting-edge building design from some of the most recognised architects of the post-war era.
As a result, Harlow became a truly novel town; home to the first pedestrian precinct, the first modern-style residential tower block, and the first purpose-built health centre in Great Britain.
The Master Plan provided for a series of neighbourhoods, each having all life’s daily needs within walking distance. These neighbourhoods are separated by landscaped areas which bring the countryside within easy reach of all residents. Features such as existing roads, historic sites, woods and ponds were retained, together with the old small country town of Harlow and other local settlements.
The principles of the Master Plan have enabled Harlow to become a mature and successful town.
The area was first settled about 8,000 years ago. Later the Romans built a temple and township. The Saxons left their Moot, or meeting place and the Normans a Twelfth Century chapel. Harlow has nearly 200 listed buildings including one of the first post-war tower blocks in the country and a 1960s railway station, as well as many older structures. Harlow also had the first purpose-built NHS Health Centre, the first industrial health centre and the first modern sports centre.
Within Harlow there are many green open spaces for sport and leisure: the 164 acre Town Park, 21 sites of Special Scientific interest, a number of nature reserves and not least the nationally renowned sculpture garden created by the Gibberds, which lies on the outskirts of the town. Click here for The Gibberd Garden website.
Everyone in Harlow has access to natural landscape within easy walking distance. A network of pedestrian lanes and cycle ways provide safe routes to other parts of the town and out to the surrounding countryside without having to mix with road traffic.
Harlow New Town was designed from the outset as a self-contained community providing housing, employment, leisure and public services. It is a precursor of the “sustainable communities” that the 21st century demands in order to best use precious land and resources. The guiding principles behind the design of Harlow remain pertinent today and now provide the basis for our new communities.
Given adequate investment, improved public transport and infrastructure, employment opportunities and vision, Harlow can become an exemplary green town of the 21st century both in the colour of the landscape and in the environmental sense.