A new live music venue and upgrades to the Playhouse will be delivered following Harlow Council successfully securing £20m of government funding to transform and regenerate Playhouse Square and College Square.
The scheme has been backed with funding from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund which was announced last night (18 January 2023). The area will be transformed into an Arts and Cultural Quarter as part of the regeneration of Harlow town centre and will include:
- A live music and performance venue (including music school and recording studio)
- Upgrades to the Playhouse
- New pedestrian focused and engaging public square for events, outdoor performances, cinema, and outdoor dining
- Contemporary bar and café
- Artist and maker studio spaces
- High-quality residential apartments
- Flexible studios for creative and performing arts, rehearsal space, events, smaller and outdoor performances, and community uses
- A new art gallery and associated spaces for literary arts, spoken word, education events and visiting exhibitions and installations
- Green pocket park with natural play installations
- Accessibility provisions including disabled parking and accessibly designed spaces
- Upgraded and secure underpass beneath Haydens Road
The scheme will bring together a diverse range of artistic, entertainment, cultural and heritage disciplines to establish a regional hub of innovative and engaging events and activities.
The iconic buildings - the Playhouse Theatre and St Paul’s Church - will remain at the heart of the new quarter.
As part the scheme’s delivery the council purchased the derelict Occasio House site in December. The buildings will be demolished, and the land used for a new high-quality residential development. Following the council's recent purchase of the Harvey Centre, there is also the opportunity to integrate part of the centre into the regeneration scheme.
Councillor Dan Swords, Deputy Leader of the Council, has hailed this as another historic moment for the regeneration of Harlow town centre. He said:
“This is another historic moment for the regeneration of the town centre following the recent purchases of Occasio House and the Harvey Centre, the £46 million investment from Strawberry Star and approval for the £15m redevelopment of the bus station and Terminus Street being funded by the government’s Towns Fund.
“Not only will this Levelling Up funding regenerate another part of the town centre, but it will also support leisure, art and culture and boost the local economy. The brilliant Playhouse and iconic St Paul’s Church will remain the centrepieces of this regeneration scheme, a scheme which will improve lives.
“From the consultation we carried out earlier this year there is clear public and stakeholder backing for this scheme which clearly strengthened our bid. I also want to pay tribute to the council’s regeneration team who worked so hard to improve the bid and secure this funding for Harlow.
“We are delivering on the council’s commitment to entirely rebuild our town centre. We are also continuing our work with all our other regeneration priorities for the town, like building new council homes, repairing existing council homes and restoring pride in the town.”
Cllr Lesley Wagland OBE, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Renewal, Infrastructure and Planning, said:
“This funding will boost the Harlow town centre economy, helping make more of its arts and cultural facilities and enhancing the town centre for residents and visitors alike.
“Essex County Council is committed to our own Levelling Up Strategy, in which Harlow is one of our six priority areas, and we look forward to working with Harlow Council to bring these plans to fruition.”
Ahead of the council submitting its bid in July, extensive public consultation took place. An 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. Some of the responses from 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.”