The news, just before Christmas, that Government is now reviewing its approach to determining housing numbers, moving the focus away from rural areas in the south east towards urban areas and brownfield sites, gave some the impression that the heat was now off the Chilterns, insofar as new build was concerned. That’s not quite the case. Rather, the government is thinking about reducing the additional requirement on which there was consultation in August 2020. There will still be a requirement to build new homes.
As far as the Chesham Masterplan is concerned a need to build new homes continues to be an integral part of the regeneration of the town. The Masterplan wants more dwellings but not more of the same. Instead, it wants to focus on homes in the town centre, smaller than those on the outskirts of the town, particularly suitable for first time buyers and those wishing to downsize. This was summed up in a letter to the planning lead on Buckinghamshire Council from the Chiltern Society. It said:
“The Chesham Masterplan has been developed through the hard work of the Chesham Renaissance Community Interest Company and the local community, and sets out a positive and sustainable vision for the future development of Chesham, thus avoiding the need to develop in surrounding fields forming part of the Green Belt. At the core of the Masterplan is the principle of building homes in the town centre and adjacent to shops and rail links, reducing the need for commuting by car.”
The Chiltern Society has now agreed to fully support the Masterplan, along with its partners, as work begins on the development of a new Buckinghamshire Local Plan.
In a letter to Chesham Renaissance the Chiltern Society said: “The Chesham Masterplan is an excellent and professional report ….. and sets out a positive and sustainable vision for the future development of Chesham….”
Obviously, Chesham Renaissance was delighted with this support and it came at about the same time as Buckinghamshire Council asked them to join a Chesham Regeneration Committee along with the Town Council. The first meeting took place on 22nd December.
All this might seem like slow progress since the Masterplan was first published three years ago but, compared with the pace being adopted before the emergence of the new unitary authority, it’s a sprint! For the authors of the Chesham Masterplan, after three years of banging on the door of the now defunct Chiltern District Council, there is now progress to be made with Buckinghamshire Council. The new Council has shown itself to be much more willing to listen to what local people want; so, what will Chesham Renaissance seek?
Put simply we can look to the overriding objective of Chesham Masterplan, to make Chesham a better place in which to live and work. But what does that mean in practice? For this we should look to the objectives of Chesham Renaissance, which include:
- Making Chesham an attractive gateway to the Chilterns;
- Changing the town centre with a substantial increase in a sustainable range of housing and the educational, commercial and retail functions to support the increased number of residents.
- Becoming a town of substance, leading in sustainable innovative design and planning and considered as an exemplar in making better use of public and private assets;
- Attracting mature organisations and start-ups but at the same time be welcoming to those who wish to use the town as a base for working in London and the surrounding area; and
- Maintaining close physical links with the Chilterns area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the land designated as Green Belt.
Commenting on the Chesham Masterplan objectives, the Town Council website makes the point that Chesham residents feel strongly about climate change. It suggests a specific reference to this with the words:
- Reducing the carbon footprint of the town through a combination of new build environmental performance, of renewable energy generation and of protecting and improving the town’s green infrastructure.
The authors of the Masterplan are in full accord with this suggestion and will ensure that what has been implicit in the Masterplan will become explicit.
It’s hoped that a consensus can emerge around these critical objectives. They might be very fine sounding words but we have to be ambitious for the town. There is nothing here that cannot be achieved. In the 40+ years that Chesham has been twinned with three towns, in Germany, France and Spain, it’s been interesting for those of us who have visited those towns to see their centres as a hub of activity, where many residents live and where thriving economies have been built. Walk around or drive around those towns; the comparison with Chesham is stark. Their success is not beyond our capabilities.
We have all the ingredients in Chesham for success. This is an historic market town surrounded by Green Belt and the Chilterns AONB. It is connected directly to the London Underground network and is only about 25 miles from the centre of London by road. It is thus an entry point to probably the most important green belt area close to London for tourists to visit. Importantly, we believe there is now an appetite for making the town centre a residential and commercial centre.
The alternative is to have isolated and remote hilltop settlements surrounding the decaying original core of the town located in the bottom of the valley. We believe no one wants that. Our physical working and living environment must change. From the rather tired legacy of a largely industrial manufacturing past to a significantly outward focused town which welcomes substantial inward investment of capital and revenue.
Chesham Renaissance believes this prospect excited those who attended the Chesham Masterplan exhibition in November 2017. It was attractive to 75% of those who responded to the public consultative exercise that followed. It’s the vision that will be put to the Chesham Regeneration Committee, charged with preparing proposals for the new Buckinghamshire Local plan, replacing those in the little lamented plan which Buckinghamshire Council inherited last year.