August 10, 2020

A new beginning?

By Andrew Ketteringham

In recent weeks an interesting collision of events and circumstances has brought about a remarkable opportunity to invigorate Chesham and the surrounding area and it could be the best opportunity yet for Chesham to meet the economic, housing and social prospects for the town and adjoining villages.

Discussions, initially with the Chiltern planners and more recently with Buckinghamshire Council planners, concluded in early July with some clear indications of what would be required for one of the Chesham Masterplan sites to be accepted as available for housing rather than the current employment designation.  In early July the directors of Chesham Renaissance met in Chesham with a cabinet member and two senior officers to discuss the Masterplan proposals.  This has encouraged a developer, to begin investing a substantial sum in a planning application for submission later this year.  It was apparent that the planners had noted the overall objectives of the Masterplan in coming to their conclusions.

In June Chesham Renaissance, the authors of the Chesham Masterplan, continued their discussions with Chesham Town Council, seeking to ensure cooperation between the two in the interests of putting Chesham high in the priorities of Buckinghamshire Council.  Working together will cover a much wider area than the first stage of the Masterplan but retain all the objectives of making Chesham a better place in which to live and work, improving our environment, providing more homes and encouraging new businesses into the town.

By coincidence it now looks likely that the Local Plan proposed by Chiltern and South Bucks Councils will be withdrawn, leaving a huge gap in local planning policies which will have to be filled to preserve and protect the prosperity and environment of the town.

At the same time, we have seen the demise of Chiltern District Council and the emergence of a new unitary authority, Buckinghamshire Council, which has new budgets, priorities and challenges across a much wider area than Chiltern.  This presents new challenges and opportunities as Chesham seeks to promote our local prospects within this much wider area.

Buckinghamshire Council will have to develop a new plan for the economic and social needs of the new authority.  Within this bigger area Chesham will need to present very clearly the case for a fair share of the resources available and at the same time provide solutions that are not only attractive to the new unitary authority but also compelling answers to the issues it will face. This will be more important than ever in the post-Covid 19 era.

As a result of these changes, a combination of Chesham Renaissance, Chesham Town Council, the Chesham and Villages Community Board, the new Buckinghamshire councillors for Chesham and the surrounding area have the opportunity to start providing those answers. Remembering the overwhelming support for the Masterplan during its consultation phase this is likely to garner considerable local support.  But it needs all interested parties to work together so that there is a clear and strong message that this is the best opportunity we have had to promote Chesham – and it comes at a time when the new unitary authority is seeking solutions to some considerable challenges.

The directors of Chesham Renaissance, the company which has devoted considerable resources into developing the Masterplan are determined that Chesham should not fail to rise to this challenge! Consequently, it is seeking to build a coalition of those who can support a new initiative. They consider it a matter of urgency and the start of a process which could become an irresistible force for good within Buckinghamshire’s third largest town.  Success will bring huge benefits not only for those of us who live and work here but also to the wider population of the county.

(Andrew Ketteringham was a director of Chesham Renaissance CIC until earlier this year and now advises the board on communication issues.)