Long delayed Romford masterplan set for publication next year

A long-delayed council masterplan for Romford town centre will be published “next year”, six years after it was first commissioned by Havering Council.

Consultants working for the council last revealed details of the masterplan for the town centre in 2019, but its progress appears to have stalled under the council’s Conservative administration.

However, during a debate over the future of Romford Market this week (23rd November) – prompted by the news that the council plans to axe Sunday trading – Havering’s new leadership said an updated masterplan will be published next year.

At the debate over the market, the HRA-Labour coalition running the council rejected a Conservative motion to “establish a cross-party working group” that would help make plans to “protect and enhance” the market.

David Taylor, Conservative councillor for Saint Edward’s ward in Romford, had argued that the market could be improved “with the right people around the table”.

But council leader Ray Morgon said Havering can no longer subsidise the market at £200,000 per year but is “actively working” on a masterplan to improve the whole town centre.

In a bid to limit a £32million budget gap in 2024-25, the council hopes that stopping Sunday trading at the ancient market – which was established by royal order in 1247 – will save £30,000.

Cabinet member for regeneration Graham Williamson said a public consultation on an updated masterplan, first commissioned under the Conservatives in 2017, will be launched “next year”.

He rejected the idea of a cross-party working group as a “talking shop”.

In March 2022, shortly before the local elections, former Conservative leader Damian White claimed the masterplan had been delayed for years because of the equally-delayed local plan, which guides planning across the borough.

But the Romford Civic Society called the delay a “scandal” and warned that big developments are being approved before the town centre masterplan plan, which would guide their size and design, is adopted.

Details of the council’s vision for the town centre, released during an exhibition in 2019, included various suggestions including creating a “rejuvenated market”, a “refined retail offer”, more office space and a “new residential community”.

The exhibition materials said the market needs to be “reinvigorated and refreshed” with more varied “complementary activities and uses” including local produce.

There could also be a new seating area, a “strengthened” group of trees, and a year-round events space.

Pivoting towards residential development in Romford is in line with the Mayor of London’s designation of the town centre as an “opportunity area” on the Elizabeth Line, with the potential for 5,000 new homes and 500 new jobs by 2041.

However, according to the Mayor’s website, only 450 homes have been built in Romford since 2019, less than five percent of which were affordable.

A map of the centre suggests that while the historic character of the marketplace and South Street would be “maintained” and remain focussed on retail, other areas could see large-scale redevelopment into residential, employment and cultural spaces.

A key suggested change appears to be to redevelop The Brewery shopping centre into high-rise flats, offices and shops.

These would be built around a north-south green space running along the River Rom, with access to a new entrance to Romford Station at the western end of the platforms.

The dual carriageway ring road around the centre would be redesigned as a more pleasant “urban street” with trees and more crossings.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter