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Chairman's Report - December 2021
As we proceed towards Christmas and the end of the year let me reflect on a number of current issues. Local conditions have prevented the Society from organising any public events but, using our Zoom account, we have hosted two talks. All but one of our committee meetings have been held on Zoom to protect those of a certain age. I am very grateful for the attendance at our meetings by County and Parish Councillors. This has allowed a frank exchange of views and useful feedback on matters of mutual concern.
The participation by members of your executive in the recently formed Bucks Council Chilterns Community Board action groups has allowed us to raise issues of concern as well as influencing how allocated funds are spent [please see 4 reports in this issue -Ed]
The issue taking up much of our time is the proposal by Dido Property Ltd to build a film studio on green belt land to the east of the A404 Marlow bypass. We are represented on the Dido monthly public consultations and have walked the ground and conferred with other interested local groups. Our initial view was that the proposal is a gross breach of the green belt and is totally at odds with the Local Plan to 2032, which was adopted in August 2019. The proponents have made many attractive supporting arguments on employment and local benefits. As yet we find these to be hollow. We have yet to discern how promises, such as apprenticeships, might be funded long term. There is much more to do before the planning application is lodged in the spring. We have circulated an initial synopsis of the Executive’s opinions and are seeking feedback from all our members on this issue. The email is reproduced on pages 12-13 for members who do not use this type of communication.
I wish that I could report progress on the condition of the Liston Court Garden but, regrettably, there is little. At the last count the Bucks Council land manager was still discussing proposals to redevelop the area with Sorbon Estates. Sadly, this is a perfect example of how long it takes to sort out what initially seemed to be a simple task. We want the paths to be paved properly, the garden beds to be populated with suitable perennial plants and basic maintenance to take place. Instead the damage caused by Thames Water many months ago has not been restored and paths will return to mud as winter begins. Sorbon has planning permission to build two residential properties on the end of its row of shops. This means that the footpath through the archway will go and you will have to walk right round the new build to get into Liston Road. Those using mobility scooters and the like will now have an awkward diversion and I have no idea where the vans delivering to the Court will park.
Sorbon also came to my attention during the ongoing renovation of 72 High Street, the Grade II Star White House at the entrance to the former Brewery site. Internal reconstruction took place without the planning permission required for this listed building. Having been alerted the Conservation Officer and Enforcement got to work and Sorbon made a retrospective application. This illustrates the need for us all to remain vigilant in order to protect our heritage. It is disappointing that a major developer and property owner in Marlow failed to follow the well understood regulations designed to protect historic listed property.
We can expect the development of the Lidl Store in Liston Road to commence soon. The Construction Traffic Management Plan for this site includes the following:
The working hours for the development site (including any construction and demolition activity) shall be: Typically 07:00 to 19:00 on Monday to Sunday. Details of the arrangements for the parking of vehicles by site operatives and visitors are: The contractor shall encourage subcontractors to use public transport to travel to site wherever possible. The contractor shall also inform potential subcontractors that parking is very restricted in the local area and surrounding residential areas and streets are not to be used. The contractor will monitor parking, especially on neighbouring roads, to ensure off-site parking is dealt with considerately.
So I look forward to seeing bricklayers and carpenters, with their tools, queuing at the local bus stops from 0630h onwards. If you live in the north east of Marlow you have been warned.
I have long been perplexed by the anomaly of our county authority having one contract for the enforcement of parking regulations on the streets and a separate one for management of the car parks. It smacked of inefficiency. Cllr Collingwood recently advised that enforcement has been taken back in house and a single team will perform a combined role. Hopefully with a financial benefit for us except for those who overstay.
In the wake of the COP26 conference I wish I could report a significant reduction in pollution in our Air Quality Management Area. There is evidence that the slow increase in the local use of electric vehicles is having an impact. Unfortunately uncontrolled roadworks by utility companies works against the objective. For example, Thames Water dug a hole in Chapel Street in September, installed temporary traffic lights and went away for two days. The queues went to the horizon. Bus timetables were jumbled. You could taste the pollution. There is no way of holding utility companies to account for the impact of their disruption of which Marlow has suffered in excess for the last two years. Meanwhile count the number of cars and vans you see parked in the town with the engine running. One driver told me he was on the phone and if he turned his engine off the phone disconnected. Progress!
Marlow Chamber of Trade and Commerce re-elected me as an honorary member in October. I have been very impressed by the resilience of our local companies and the way they have managed throughout the pandemic. Please continue to support them and help to minimise the number of empty properties which have such a disproportionate impact on the street scene. I continue to take my camera to the High Street about once a month to photograph changes. When compiled they provide a record of the continuing changes of the face of the Town.
My contribution is small when compared to the work of the late Joe Green of Spinfield Lane. Many of you will remember the stunning picture of the bridge that Joe took some twenty plus years ago - the one with the dark clouds as a background.
Photo by Joe Green - select to enlarge
Joe died five or six years ago. His family contacted me recently to say that the house had been sold and would the Society like to have the boxes of his photographs of the Town. What a treasure trove. It took four of us most of a morning to make a preliminary sort out. One jewel is a continuous montage of shop fronts in West and Spittal streets taken in 1995. This matches the one we already hold of the High Street in the same era. Both are significant records of the past. I plan to offer several of Joe’s framed pictures to Liston Hall in the near future. We will exhibit the photographs when we are able to resume Society meetings in Liston Hall, hopefully in the spring next year.
It's pleasing to report that the Society has welcomed a healthy influx of new members. You are all most welcome. We currently have over 650 Members so represent a significant proportion of the Marlovians who care about our Town, its appearance and its history. I welcome feedback on any pertinent issues. Your concerns over the proposed film studio have been particularly welcome.
Operating quietly behind the scenes members of our History Group have been answering questions sent in from around the world. I am most grateful for their efforts as have been the recipients of their expertise. Our Vice President, Janet Smith, a stalwart member of the History Group has asked if there is a member, with even a passing interest in local history, who would be prepared to take over as the Group’s secretary. If you can contribute a few hours each month and would enjoy participating in a worthwhile activity please contact me.
Many moons ago I gave a talk on members of our community who played an active part in wartime aviation. Amongst these was Margaret “Meg” Saint who worked for Airwork at RAF Booker where many pilots received their initial training. Meg Saint’s one hundredth birthday on Friday 12th November was well celebrated. Geoff Wood took the congratulations of the Society to her party. Well done Meg!
To complete this year-end report of 2021, I believe that the Society can look back and say that it played a constrained but worthwhile part in the life of Marlow. Covid has been an ever present worry, especially for the elder element of our community. I trust that the pragmatic sensible approach of all I meet will see us through to a less constrained lifestyle in 2022. May I end by wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.