The Chesham Masterplan, published in 2018, was prepared by Allies and Morrison, (a leading London based urban architect). I think the executive summary had the most telling commentary on the town. It was that:
The alternative (to the masterplan) is to have isolated and remote hilltop settlements surrounding the decaying original core of the town. It’s physical working and living environment must change from a rather tired legacy of its largely industrial manufacturing past to become a significant outward focused town. It must be welcoming to new businesses and new residents resulting in substantial inward investment of capital and revenue. This inward capital investment must go towards re-providing some of its public and private end-of-life assets and its ageing and deficient infrastructure provision which must be expanded to accommodate substantial commercial and residential growth.
In simple microeconomic terms, (the masterplan) acknowledged the fragility of the current perilous state of some of the smaller commercial enterprises located in and around the town centre and the retail offering which is available
This message is quite clear but was anyone listening? A line from the German philosopher Nietzsche will put this into context. He wrote:
Those who were seen dancing are thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music
I have often thought of Chesham Masterplan as the dancers, but who could not hear the music?
The Masterplan took as a baseline a non-invasive approach. The purpose was to provide a catalogue of the principal characteristics which together formed much of the original town centre, its yards, and what is often referred to as the old town. It also provided a colour palette gleaned from the buildings.
Most importantly it reinforced three things unique to Chesham. The acute shortage of land resulting from the location of the town in the bottom of a steep sided valley, The surrounding designated landscapes, and easy access to London for employment and from London for recreation.
The current thinking on these three elements is that finding or creating additional land is not easy, accepting and embracing the restrictions of the designated landscapes is a necessity, and harnessing the potential resulting from the London access should be welcome.
On the matter of creating additional land, many will have seen some very interim proposals for Star Yard which does just that. That design emerged to demonstrate what could be achieved and it is accepted that it is not to everyone’s taste and some details may not be the appropriate, but it remains a sound long-term solution in principle.
It did do all the things which the Masterplan was keen to achieve but it can only be financially viable if it is combined with other linked sites in a northerly direction. It may be regarded as overly ambitious, and when combined with other large sites it may horrify some people. It is only by chance that such an enterprise could satisfy the majority of the population at the first try.
There is a Neighbourhood Plan also being prepared; I suspect with more modest ambitions. Will it achieve the purpose set out in the Masterplan executive summary? No doubt time will tell. If it falls short of that ambition then that will be unfortunate. It will be a pity to see the opportunity pass and there are many perhaps who would wish for a more modest piecemeal approach. If that is the case it would be worth remembering what Aesop the Greek philosopher wrote:
Beware of what you wish for, least it come true.
I am not a very good at dancing or preparing Masterplans, but I can hear the music.
Chesham Renaissance Community Interest Company
‘Building on Green Belt inevitable’
There have been two planning appeals recently decided – on Green Belt land in Beaconsfield and Little Chalfont.
Both proposed the development of several hundred dwellings
The two planning inspectors involved have stated that the extent of housing need in the old Chiltern District is so large, and that the supply of suitable and available previously developed land is so short, that some green field release appears to be an inevitable consequence
It was also commented that the undersupply of housing has persisted for over a decade,
Our councillors and planners have been standing by while this situation develops. Do they accept the conclusion of the Planning Inspectorate that green field development is now inevitable? We await the publication of the Chesham Neighbourhood Plan to see the Town Council’s measures to address the chronic problem.