New communities – how is Harlow’s Newhall holding up?

“The quality achieved to date represents an impressive advance for UK residential street design, and deserves the attention and accolades attracted so far”.  So said the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment in the late noughties, typical of the plaudits Newhall in Harlow, Essex, received in the early years of its comprehensive development under the direction of forward thinking landowners with an aspirational masterplan.  But how has it aged?  Sue Rowlands, Director at Tibbalds, finds out.

by Sue Rowlands

 

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Tibbalds first visited New Hall in Harlow in 2006.  Back then, the main street (‘The Chase’) had been developed, along with the areas immediately to the north and south.  Architects included PCKO, Proctor and Matthews and Richard Murphy.  The site has continued to be developed out, and the first phase of development is now complete.  Planning permission was granted for the much larger 2,300 home Phase 2 in 2016, and construction is underway.  The developments that have completed Phase 1 include Alison Brooks’ award-winning ‘Newhall Be’ scheme, along with Proctor and Matthews’ distinctive ‘SLO’ development. The overall masterplan was produced by Studio REAL.

We found much to admire in 2006: high quality architecture of genuinely modern homes, and a uniquely strong approach to street hierarchy, with the avenue of The Chase clearly setting it apart from the intimate streets either side.

12 years later, how is the original development faring?  And how has the development evolved over the years with the new additions?

First of all, there is still real clarity to the overall layout, with The Chase forming the main spine.  The generous verges and avenue planting are rarely seen in modern developments, with their focus on ‘saleable’ land and tussle with highways on what will be adoptable.  And the buildings have, on the whole, aged well.  We were concerned in 2006 that the complexity of the detailing and material palette would not age well.  But the majority of the dwellings have held up well, with a modern look that – from a cursory trawl of estate agents’ websites – is highly ‘sellable’.

However – despite the undeniable quality – there is something of the ‘architectural zoo’ about Newhall.  Although the streets form a well-connected grid, the layout is somewhat confusing with odd juxtapositions of very different architectural styles.  It is not just about style – the way in which buildings define streets and spaces is highly variable, with the Richard Murphy approach of irregular building forms loosely grouped around shared surfaces contrasting sharply with the intimate mews streets tightly enclosed by continuous building fronts of the neighbouring Proctor and Matthews scheme.  A common approach to the relationship between building and street would have, we feel, provided a strong framework that could cope better with the architectural variety that has grown only more complex with the completion of more recent parcels.

We’ll be watching the development of Phase 2 with interest.  The schemes on site look to be high-quality volume housebuilder products, perhaps not of the same degree of innovation as Phase 1 but nevertheless continuing to set Newhall apart from other developments.

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