Back in the mid-1980s, when I first came to live in Stanmore, there was a good deal of land that was used for employment purposes. On Honeypot Lane there were the Government Buildings, now the Stanmore Place housing estate. There were more Government Buildings at the foot of Brockley Hill, also now housing. Then there was RAF Stanmore Park, yes, yet more housing and RAF Bentley Priory, more luxury apartments. And it wasn’t just ex-Government sites that were being converted to housing estates. Also at the top of Stanmore Hill, in Warren Lane, stood The Grove, home of Marconi Defence Systems. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s a housing estate now. The work that used to to be done at the Grove is still done, but Harrow’s loss is Luton and Stevenage’s gain.
It is the same in Central Harrow, where Harrow’s biggest ex-employer, Kodak, is now a building site with many new bocks of flats being built not only on the manufacturing site, but also on their sports field across the road, a loss of green space for the Borough. Of course businesses often have a natural lifetime and Kodak’s was brought to an end by the rise of digital photography, but what is notable is the Council’s lack of concern for retaining employment land in the Borough, particularly for the high-value jobs that Kodak, Marconi and the RAF brought.
When I became a councillor in 1991, one of the first documents I received from the Council Officers was what was then called the Unitary Development Plan. For those of us on the Planning Committees, it was our bible because it set out the Council’s overarching policies on planning and development. Now it seems that the only planning policy that Harrow Council has is to cram in more houses with no thought to the consequences. And where are the people living in all these new houses going to work? Are they going to end up being commuters into Central London? If we have learned one thing from the Covid lockdown, it is that we need to be more flexible about employment and reduce not increase commuting.
We have the University of Westminster Northwick Park campus on our boundary, yet have the Council even thought about leveraging the skills there and encouraging their staff and graduates to set up businesses within the Borough. Hackney and Islington Boroughs have set up the East London Tech City, the so-called ‘Silicon Roundabout’, but there is a lack of comparable vision in Harrow. Creating the right infrastructure is crucial and this is where vision is essential, not just taking the developers’ shilling.