Sunday 14th November 2021
At last there are plans to do something about the disgrace that is Harlow’s bus station.
Funding for a brand new “sustainable transport interchange” (you don’t get humble bus stations any more) has been earmarked with Harlow DIstrict Council awarded £23.7 million in June from the Government’s ‘Towns Fund’ to realise a vision “to improve transport links in the town centre, regenerate Staple Tye neighbourhood, create a new junction at Cambridge Road and River Way, and deliver an Institute of Technology at Harlow College”.
That’s quite a list for £23.7 million but Harlow District Council has done its sums and reckons £5 million of it together with potential match funding of £7 million from a Housing Investment Grant will pay for the “sustainable transport interchange” itself while £10.5 million of it with matched funding still “being explored” will pay for the “creation of a mixed use transport hub building with facilities to support and promote first class sustainable travel, new homes and commercial work-space”.
Which, roughly translated I’m guessing means poster cases to put timetables and posters in (which will soon be rendered useless by being out of date), real time signs, which won’t be real time, a few kiosks selling cigarettes, sweets, kebabs, take away coffee and cracked mobile phone repairs and some “affordable” flats to rent above.
John Keddie the independent private-sector chair of Harlow Growth Board and Councillor Mark Ingall, leader of Harlow District Council are both hugely optimistic about Harlow’s future: “innovation and creativity are in the town’s DNA” they jointly proclaim. Harlow’s MP, Conservative Robert Halfon naturally reckons the funding “is incredible news and sets Harlow on the path to an even more exciting future”.
The Harlow Town Investment Plan is certainly ambitious. “Harlow will have a thriving, enterprising and vibrant Town Centre and a beautiful town park at its core”. There are plans for neighbouring Gilston to the north of Harlow as well as “seven new villages” to be subsumed into an expanded Harlow and Gilston Garden Town – the area was designated a ‘Garden Town’ in January 2017. And of course any decent ‘Garden Town’ needs a “a high quality sustainable transport interchange”.
The Investment Plan reckons the “Garden Town will bring a range of benefits for all existing as well as new residents”. And top of the list of benefits is … “new fast, frequent, high quality bus services”.
The top priority of the Garden Town Transport Strategy is listed as the delivery of a “high-quality sustainable transport interchange”.
And this won’t be just any “high quality sustainable transport interchange”. This will be a high quality sustainable interchange “designed to maximise sustainable public transport and active travel options with maximum space efficiency and capability to evolve as new digitally managed on-demand travel options emerge”.
I just about managed to keep a straight face as I typed that last bit. And excuse a dollop of scepticism from this blogger, but I struggle to square the enthusiasm and passion for Harlow and Gilston Garden Town’s future as expounded in all this vision stuff when the self same people who expound the visionary verbosity are in charge of the current Harlow, and clearly haven’t been anywhere near the town’s bus station for weeks, or months, or years, or even ever.
And if they have paid a visit recently, my question would be, why as chair of the Growth Board, Leader of the Council or the town’s MP haven’t they done something about the absolute disgrace that is on show to the public every day …. not in some utopian vision for a Garden Town future, but now, on the ground in November 2021.
Indeed if they gave me the relevant keys to the display cases I’d come up and spend a few hours sorting it out for them one morning, just to show it can be done, with very little effort and minimal time and cost.
This is what I’m referring to as found on my recent visits in August, September and October as well as a year ago, since when nothing has changed ….
The Visitor Information Centre which previously included a manned Arriva information and ticket sales counter is closed and locked out of use.
No-one has thought to take down the displays still advertising excursions and activities not from this year, not last year, but from 2019.
Harlow Council think so poorly of themselves, they can’t even be bothered to sort out the defaced lettering on the bus shelters at the southern end of the main bus station building and from where many of the departures leave. These have been in this state for at least the last couple of years.
What does it take to either remove the remaining letters or replace the missing ones? It would be a comedy reminiscent of Sunshine Deserts, in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin it it wasn’t so tragic. And “collect any more passengers” is poor use of English.
Graffiti and flyposting is as bad as ever. When I visited last year there were posters and photographs about someone who’d committed suicide but his partner had “blood on his hands”.
This time it was Poundland advertising in Romanian for staff, well so Google translates tells me is what it’s saying.
They’re obviously not targeting English speakers in their recruitment drive.
Graffiti still there from previous visits a year ago.
All the posters on display between the closed Visitor Information Centre and the main bus station departure building, by the toilets (which thankfully are open and clean) are out of date.
There’s one telling you about Zip which as far as I can see ceased in April 2019. It’s poignantly beneath a plaque marking the opening of the “central bus terminus” twenty years ago.
There’s two posters showing a listing of most of the routes which depart from the bus station, along with departure times which totally baffled the LCBS 50th Anniversary Tour team – we had no idea what it was purporting to show, since it was neither comprehensive, nor logically selective.
It was a complete mystery until the little grey cells finally clicked and I thought it might well be a listing of departures from stands 11 to 14 as per the notice in the top right of the frame, but just to confuse things also showing the daytime departures on routes (6, 10 and 59) that also use those stands during the day. But there again, some routes weren’t included such as Green Line route 724 which also uses those stands. And what about the early morning departures listed? Confusing? You bet.
And that poster for route 396 – it hasn’t run for at least two years. “Step back in time” being the operative words for sure.
As the poster was displaying valid from 27/8/2017 we assumed it was all a lie anyway and was some kind of colourful decorative wallpaper.
That’s as up to date the poster supposedly helpfully explaining “where to catch your bus” is too.
Where to catch you bus that no longer runs, more like.
Where timetables are displayed in cases by the shelters at bus bays 11 and 12 in the open air they’re designed so that the actual departure times are shown at the very bottom below waist height – ideal for a small child to view but no good for any adult who has to bend down to try and see them.
Then we come to the ten covered departure bays in the main bus station building, although not before a so called real time sign, It isn’t.
Just look at the state of the grime around the skirting.
Cleanliness is not much better inside the departure stands either. “Clean, safe and ready to go” … not in Harlow, Covid or no Covid.
I’ve highlighted the out of date information at each departure stand when I reported on my visit in September 2020, so I’ll spare you a repeat of all the details again, but suffice to say, nothing has changed in a year and pretty much everything is out of date.
Even posters provided by the area’s main operator Arriva.
It makes you wonder if Circus Cortex and the pantomime and wrestling promoters can visit and flypost their posters, why can’t bus company staff? Have they no interest at all in how their bus routes are portrayed?
No wonder the circus people haven’t bothered to return to take their out of date posters down. No one else bothers.
Perhaps everyone just waits until they literally fall down….
…. or the whole bus station is pulled down ready for its “high quality sustainable transport interchange” replacement.
When it will all be good.
Of course it will.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.