Hope for Harlow

Sunday 14th November 2021

At last there are plans to do something about the disgrace that is Harlow’s bus station.

An artists impression of the new “interchange” – here’s hoping either the No Entry sign or wayward delivery lorry is sorted before it opens!

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I’m guessing means poster cases to put timetables and posters in (which will soon be rendered useless by being out of date), real time signs, which won’t be real time, a few kiosks selling cigarettes, sweets, kebabs, take away coffee and cracked mobile phone repairs and some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”.

Flashback: September 2020

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.

Flashback: September 2020

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.

Roger French

32 thoughts on “Hope for Harlow

Add yours

  1. Blah . . . Blah . . . Blah . . . I guess the politicians locally might believe this nonsense, but will anyone else??

    £23m cost . . . but £10.5m of that still to be located?? Maybe the cost of (the consultants) producing the report could’ve been better spent cleaning the bus station up and replacing the timetables? Or is Essex CC hoping the money raised from its Bus Back Better Plan submission will pay for it all?? I’d do it for £1k . . . 5 people for one day @ £100 each, plus a pressure washer . . . sorted!!

    When will politicians learn that all that Joe Passenger wants is for the bus to run on time; be clean and at a reasonable fare . . . RTPI would be nice as well. Not too much to hope for, is it . . . ??

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A few years ago, when the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town was first being promoted, Epping Forest District Council, in whose territory much of it is being built, issued a transport prospectus with a picture of a trolleybus on the front cover…..
    Some hopes, given the then total dereliction of the town’s bus network.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Waist high timetables were surely part of Essex CC’s drive to make public transport fully accessible to passengers in wheelchairs? No help at all to wheelchair users or ambulant passengers if they’re so woefully out of date. Much as I now bemoan local authorities (not to mention West Yorkshire CA by name) who have removed every vestige of timetables from our streets, I suppose that a waist high QR code is ok for wheelchair users and children with iPhones?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought when your team passed through Harlow, they could usefully have used the time to produce a Plan for the Council. What else was the visit for? Obviously, they did!

    I was imprisoned in Harlow bus station (I daren’t call it an Interchange) a few years ago, when the hourly bus from the east was scheduled to arrive five minutes after the hourly bus to the west left (it still does); and the next daytime driver to the west, who’d had half an hour added to his schedules for peak time delays, had a better idea, to add it to his layover time at Harlow, so my bus left 45m late. (I’ve found better ways of doing the journey since, not involving buses).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I thought when your team passed through Harlow, they could usefully have used the time to produce a Plan for the Council. What else was the visit for? Obviously, they did!

    I was imprisoned in Harlow bus station (I daren’t call it an Interchange) a few years ago, when the hourly bus from the east was scheduled to arrive five minutes after the hourly bus to the west left (it still does); and the next daytime driver to the west, who’d had half an hour added to his schedules for peak time delays, had a better idea, to add it to his layover time at Harlow, so my bus left 45m late. (I’ve found better ways of doing the journey since, not involving buses).


  6. Sorry for posting twice. Fat fingers.
    Information is a problem, across Essex. In Colchester the Bus Users group do put up up-to-date information promptly in an effort to help passengers, and are threatened by both the bus company and the County Council for doing so!


    1. Putting up unofficial information about bus times is a very well intentioned thing to do, especially if the official information is out of date or missing. However, if it is stuck on to perspex panels, they sometimes have to be replaced. It’s surprising how easy it is to damage a perspex panel, having to robustly clean off Cellotape at the roadside can leave the panel scuffed, rendering it useless. Not very sustainable, financially or otherwise. Surely contacting the relevant team at the council is the way to go?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Surely contacting the relevant team at the council is the way to go?”
        If you can find out who the relevant team are, and if they actually condescend to respond to contacts.
        If they do, then you get to enter the mire of who is responsible, who is paying, who is expected to do the work and so on.
        There’s a reason flyposting is so prevalent: it’s a zillion times easier than trying to do things properly.


  7. The amount of effort required to spruce it up a bit, and put new timetables in the cases etc. is not very great, but presumably it is one of the easiest things to cut when the budget runs out, conveniently overlooking all the lost passenger income that could have been generated if information was current. If there was no budget left, isn’t this one of the easiest tasks for ‘community service’ offenders to undertake?


  8. So instead of a wide open Bus Station full of the dregs of society, we can now look forward to an enclosed Bus Station full of the dregs of society. Delightful…


  9. Unkempt and dirty bus stations and shelters, out of date information or none at all, and dirty and battered buses all say that passengers are not important, we are not bothered whether you travel or not and we don’t care about you. Buses are just for those who have no alternative and have to put up with it.
    Essex CC will doubtless plead budget cuts but surely Harlow Council could at least add cleaning of the area to their town centre work, it is a face of their town after all.
    Arriva as the main operator and with a base in the town could surely maintain some accurate and up to date bus stop information (or are local management not allowed to?). They will be the ones who gain from any additional journeys after all!
    All so sad and wasted opportunities.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So when that plaque was put up, someone thought the bus station was something to be proud of. So who let it go to rack and ruin? Let the guilty individuals put their hands up, and make amends by putting it right. It isn’t “the system”, in the stars, Mrs Thatcher or whoever is the current bogeyman.
    If they can’t, or won’t, then we can’t stand to learn anything, or stop it happening again.
    If the government can’t demand, or get, answers, then the private sector will. Or how do they expect to con investors to part with their cash? ECC, not levelling up, but levelling down.


    1. In case you haven’t noticed, the bus services (which you complain about elsewhere) are already run by the private sector – who are clearly happy enough with the dire state of the bus station they use, as they’ve made no attempt to do anything to improve it.


  11. Excellent report, spot-on comments. Let us not forget this wreck, which looks worse than some of the buses using it in the recent past, is Harlow’s second bus station and has looked pretty much like this for years. Just wondering when we may hear that Arriva “has been looking at their business case and reluctantly decided to close their depot at Harlow………”.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Scruffy bus stations or no bus station at all as they have been off are common as a real
    tline information displays theat dont work. Scruffy out of date information at bus stations and at stops and on buses is the norm as well. . Few bus stops now even route numbers or timetables and in rural ares you frequently dont even get bus stops

    The overall impression you get with buses is a could not care a less attitude, Buses now in general are just used by those that have no alternative. If these people had an alternative they would not use them. It is not good news when your customer base does not really want to use your service


  13. Perhaps the bus industry is just like the rest of us. Go after the easy dosh, wherever it is to be found, and s0d the rest. Certainly the effort seems to be lacking.

    I know it isn’t for many good people who work in the industry; but they have to think how to prove it. They are failing now, and no amount of slogans or make-up can disguise that. Unless they can do it, any government initiative will fail. They may not get another chance.


    1. Absolutely agree that much more needs to be done. I do however see the current state of the industry as a symptom of the decline, rather than the primary cause of it. The real reason the industry is in decline is decade after decade of increasing car use. Unfortunately a lot of people only want to use buses when their car is in the garage getting its MOT.

      The fact that most bus networks are no longer centrally planned, and operators are (understandably) only interested in profitable routes, obviously doesn’t help.


    2. Essex Smurf said: I know it isn’t for many good people who work in the industry; but they have to think how to prove it.

      The people who care aren’t in a position to improve it; the people who are in a position to improve it don’t care.
      Same as the railway.


      1. I take your point. They let down all of us. This sounds so trite, so I apologise.

        But please, don’t undersell yourself. Little things often mean a lot. Thank you, and all the others.


  14. I searched online for “Harlow Bus Station” out of curiosity more than anything. What I found doesn’t readily correlate with Roger’s experience, and there are even the minutes of the “latest meeting” of the Bus Users’ Group to enjoy.


  15. Roger’s blog looks at buses from a non-users perspective. How many non-users are there in a BUGS group? Worthy as they are, often people with a bee in their bonnet about a local issue, as with most community representatives. Buses, and bus stations, aren’t on most people’s radar. They’re irrelevant. We might have to use buses to school, and college; and that’s it. We move on. Apart from leisure services or museum pieces.
    In my “typical” street of 20 suburban houses one person uses the bus, occasionally. The rest use the car, usually several, all the time, for everything. They would say the nature of their work, and leisure means they have to. They can’t carry tools and materials , visit clients, take their golf equipment, or deal with multiple child drop offs and collections at the same time as attending to their own business , on the bus.
    In my experience most operators do try their hardest to meet the needs of their passengers, who represent a very small part of the population. Often they are, bluntly, moving on, in one way or another.
    The challenge is the future. Where are the new passengers coming from, or is it just, as it has been over the last fifty years, an industry in decline serving itself. I don’t know, frankly.
    I lived in a small town, with an hourly weekday daytime bus to the nearest regional centre. It oscillated between hourly and two hourly, but commercially struggles on its hourly frequency to collect enough passengers on its direct route through the villages. The connecting village services have even more of a struggle, but thanks to decent independents, have a good quality service.
    The new Mayor has published his draft bus plan aiming to increase frequency to 6 an hour, into evenings and Sundays, and with hourly connections. How are we going to achieve that? Not with bus users, but it has to attract non-bus users. That’s what we are talking about. A congestion charge on its own isn’t the magic wand.


  16. and do say all of us…today massive amounts of pigeon dung on seats.
    Perhaps because Arriva have a virtual monopoly they don’t carePerhaps that is why their drivers are leaving
    They don’t even have staff available to help visitors or even citizens
    They don’t even have any supervision to ensure buses leave on time
    Waste of time and space


  17. It’s not just at the bus station either. A bus shelter’s decline into decrepitude has been faithfully documented since 2009 courtesy of the Google car. It’s on the A1019 near the Edinburgh Way roundabout (esxjdwgj, if your interested). Quite why the vandalised and now opaque panels were not replaced at the same time a new flag is anyone’s guess.

    In response to Essex Smurf. Some reasons to be (a little more) cheerful:
    1) There are fewer young people learning to drive than ever before;
    2) Concern for the environment is now more mainstream than it was even 10-15 years ago, with a lot of opportunities for the bus industry to deliver;
    3) The ability of the bus industry to help the socially-excluded has never been more important with an ageing population and decentralisation of services;
    4) If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic has elevated the status of the bus as a vital service which kept going (albeit with a lot of government money) throughout the lockdowns;
    5) There’s a lot of housing development going on and the only way many are going to get planning permission is by contributing to more sustainable transport means from the outset;
    6) Because of the above, there still remains the requirement to use road space more efficiently. Driving electric vehicles will still mean we sit in a queue, just one which doesn’t pollute the air as much;
    7) I predict road-pricing will be introduced to replace vehicle taxation due to the reduction in petrol use. At the very least, this will force car drivers to evaluate the cost of every journey, rather than only considering the price of the fuel (or electricity) used at the time.


    1. A few observations. People who don’t or can’t drive find alternatives: Amazon & the like, Uber and taxis, charity (friends, neighbours or community), bikes and just walking. Not buses, except as a temporary expedient (a sort of transport ambulance) – at least if they have any sanity left. Been there, done that. Ask your passengers.

      They call it the “friends and neighbours” test in the customer service world. Would you recommend us?

      We’ve seen it all before. The Americans, as so often, called it right: Wendell Berry (1971): In 5 years the energy of our
      present environmental concern [(greater than today, I was there)] will peter out in public gestures & empty laws — and we will have lost a great, and perhaps the last, human opportunity. What comes around, goes around.
      During the 1960s /70s my father used car share (or the bus) to his workplace, and I didn’t drive until my mid-20s. Environmentally conscious, or fools? We eventually saw the error of our ways. What makes you think people today, or tomorrow, will be any different? We vote with our wallets. Most of us can’t afford not to.

      It’s a transient state, that now most of us dispense with altogether. Teenage radicals, we’d like to dispense with them, but as older wisdom says, if they’re not then they’re no good, and if they don’t become socially conservative during their 20s, we can do it then.

      Road pricing, yes. But not if it costs us more in the pocket. And certainly not to subsidise buses that we never use. Haven’t we noticed the costs of dealing with the the pandemic. We will, eventually.

      So as greenline hints, reasons to be cheerful… or dreaming?


  18. There are some interesting comments from Dan there . . . I do hope that a few of his “reasons to be cheerful” come to pass.

    However, I also predict that some form of road pricing will have to come . . . frankly, we’ve tried many carrots over the years; they haven’t worked long-term, so maybe it’s time for a stick or two. Of course . . . if fuel duty was increased in line with what it should have been, we’d have an appropriate stick right there, and if fuel duty was also removed from buses and coaches, then fares could be reduced, and risks taken in new operations.

    Ah well . . . back to reality . . .


    1. Frankly, I’ve not seen many carrots! In a few places, real-time information, and government/council funding back during New Labour for better bus-shelters and timetable cases. But little real integration, so many journeys are still impossible or impracticable by bus-and-train; I use bus and train wherever and whenever I can, and would love to use public transport much more.

      Why is it not standard practice for commercial bus companies to care about their passengers when they are waiting for or have just left the bus? My fear is that many in the bus industry are doing the minimum in the hope of getting a big dollop of government money – easier to do that than to make regular money by providing a service that people will want to use…

      Re young people learning to drive: it is difficult and expensive to learn to drive, pass the test, finance the car, tax, insure and keep it working. Every year another generation of young people decide to do just that: it is the poor quality of the overall public transport offer which is making this happen, and it doesn’t need to!!!


  19. Therfe a a number of issues with Dan’s commernts. Most bus journeys are short journeys but outside of London and a few cities the Bus companies have withdrawn from providing local town services prefering just to operate inter urnan services

    What services there are are far to infrequent and often dont go to where people want to travel to

    Funding for bus services for new development is far to little and normally last for 6 months after which the bus is withdrawn. No thought is given to the bus service provision it tends to be what is cheapest to impliment

    It would seem sensible to have a small levy on public parking spaces. Even say £12 a year per parking space could raise a lot of cash
    Frequently councils will subsidise car parking but not bus services

    Bus fares off peak could be significantly reduced at least outside of London and the other large cities. The amount of fare revenues bus companies get off peak is mimimal. It would not need to increase usage by much to actually increase revenues

    Reindroduce a charge for concessionary bus passes say £12 a year with then being free for non tax paying pensioners.
    Most would be happy to pay a snall charge provided it led to improved services

    Ensure that rail stations are properly serviced by buses

    Ensure that buses operate f ourside of 9am to 5pm. People noo longer work 9m to 5pm Mondays to Fridays

    Ensure that the main datytime service operate at a minimium frequency of 30 minutes and preferably 20 minutes

    Ensure thast the service operate as a network and not a collection of individual routes

    Ensure that tickets are fully interchangable on all bus services (For DRM you would need to pre book.)

    Ensure that Hospitals and Health Centres are properly serviced by bus services. Thi will present challanges outside of London where the nearest hospital can be 15 to 30 miles away. It will probably mean local town service and DRM services feeding into a transport hub( Most town now though dont have one to connect with an Interurban service

    Review DRM services. How they currently operate does not really seem to work. Yhey appear to attract few passengers and are very erxpensive to operate


  20. Harlow Council clearly do not have a budget to keep the existing bus station in good order with regular cleaning, a painting programme and removing old publicity material etc but a visit to other bus stations in Essex show a similar situation. Despite this, the Council intends to spend millions of pounds on a new bus station but unless money is set aside for decades to come to maintain it, then it will fall into a poor state yet again. I suggest that instead of a rebuild, some of the money available money is used to ensure the existing roof is extended so it become water tight, the small shelters at one end are replaced, the whole area repaved and most importantly of all, a regular maintenance programme is put in place.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: