A masterplan which could result in the “mass rebuilding” of Harlow town centre has been endorsed by civic chiefs.

Harlow Council’s cabinet voted to approve a first draft of the plan last night (October 14), which provides a framework for building new transport, retail, leisure, hospitality and gardens in five key areas.

Senior councillors said it will protect the town centre from private developments by earmarking the areas for the council’s own plans.

Additionally, a transport corridor is being planned, which would run from the station and through the town centre, as part of the wider Harlow and Gilston Garden Town development.

According to council documents, the distance and lack of connectivity between the station and town centre is currently a barrier to growth.

Labour councillors at the meeting said they supported the proposals, but claimed “95 per cent” had been lifted from their own ambitions for regeneration during their time in power.

They also criticised the cabinet for not including Princess Alexandra Hospital, the town’s largest employer, as part of the town centre, and said they had not focused enough on social housing.

Councillor Dan Swords (Con, Bush Fair) portfolio holder for regeneration, said he envisioned the town becoming a “hub of leisure and culture” that people from across the whole of the east of England would want to visit.

After the meeting, he said: “What this document really is doing, is the first building block to that major regeneration.

“I’ve made it very clear, we’re not talking about tinkering at the edges, repainting, repaving. This is a mass rebuilding.”

At the meeting, he said the council’s failure to acquire large parts of the town centre has left it vulnerable to poor private developments, which could risk derailing the regeneration before it begins.

He said: “That is why we are acting now, comprehensively, to arm the council with every possible tool to protect the town centre from an apocalypse of private developments.”

However, Labour councillors at the meeting took issue with the fact the draft did not envisage Princess Alexandra Hospital as part of the town centre.

Councillor Tony Durcan (Labour, Little Parndon and Hare Street) said the area around the hospital was also public space and that employees, who use public services and contribute to the town centre, were being left out.

He said: “In my opinion it is absolutely, critically important that that public area is put into the masterplan.

“It seems strange, and I ask why are we choosing a private company such as Sainsbury’s to put them into the masterplan, but we’re not actually putting in a public service, which is Princess Alexandra.”

Five key areas have been highlighted for regeneration by the document.

These are Terminus Street, for transport, Stone Cross Square, for leisure and hospitality, West Square, for a town centre garden, Playhouse Quarter, for culture, and Broad Walk, for retail.

But the guidance won’t become a material consideration for future planning applications for the town until a final version has been adopted by the cabinet.

Cllr Swords did also claim this would not result in a “rigid” divide of the town centre.

The supplementary planning document approved by the cabinet will now go to public consultation.

This comes after a broader Town Plan, which included plans to lobby for a London Underground station in Harlow, was endorsed by the cabinet last month, and is currently awaiting the results of a public consultation.