Hands off Our Country Park (press release)

Bucks Council jettisons Country Park plan. Marlow Residents and Campaigners respond.

Local Residents and campaigners fighting to preserve Marlow’s Greenbelt are challenging Bucks Council over changes to the status of the long-planned Little Marlow Lakes Country Park.

They believe that the switch in the Council’s policy – agreed upon in a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (October 11) – risks weakening the protection from development that the area enjoyed previously.

The report to the Cabinet asserted that the plan for the Country Park, whose origins go back over fifty years, has no legal status. It acknowledges that the then-existing Wycombe District Council in October 2017 resolved to provide a Country Park under s.7(1) of the Countryside Act 1968 to be known as ‘Little Marlow Lakes Country Park’.

However, Bucks Council now argues that ‘the “designation” is (was) not completed’ because the now-defunct WDC failed to negotiate proper arrangements with other owners of land within the boundary of the proposed park.

The Council says it will take steps to develop a country park but the area considered in their new proposal covers only one-sixth of the 330 hectares originally identified.

Save Marlow’s Greenbelt believes that the reasoning behind the Council’s decision relies on an erroneous or mistaken interpretation of the legal situation.

The Council claims that their proposals have been examined by expert lawyers but the campaigners say that this legal advice has not been disclosed to the Cabinet members who were, therefore, unable to make an informed decision. The SMG group believes that at a minimum the Council should publish the advice and seek a second legal opinion.

Save Marlow’s Greenbelt are also concerned that the Council’s assessment of the Country Park’s legality may have been influenced by Dido Properties Ltd (Guernsey) who have openly challenged the Park’s status. This is the development company aggressively pursuing a plan for large-scale commercial development in what is currently Greenbelt land within the site originally selected for the Country Park.

Curiously, part of the illustration in the Council’s Report is credited to Dido Properties.

Dido Properties are assumed to be exceptionally well-informed about the status of the Country Park. The company has retained as a consultant, town planner Ms Penelope Tollitt, who in a previous existence was Head of Planning and Sustainability at Wycombe District Council. It was on Ms Tollitt’s watch at WDC that the plan for the Country Park – bungled or otherwise – was provided.

Local residents are extremely concerned that the park they have long been promised will now never happen. Martin Braint, from Little Marlow, said “The Council has neglected this area for many years and is now planning to fob us off with the bare minimum they need to comply with planning regulations – it feels like a real slap in the face.”

Sam Kershaw, a Little Marlow Parish Councillor said: “This beautiful area, bordered by the River Thames and The Chilterns AONB has enormous potential as a place for nature and recreation.

It is deeply concerning that the unitary council has decided to renege on the legitimate commitment they inherited from WDC to develop the entire Country Park.

The decision goes against the Council’s strategic priorities and completely disregards the benefits that the Park would provide for the community’s physical and mental health. It will now be more of a Country Garden than a Country Park.”

SMG Chairman Richard Sherwin commented: “The Bucks Council are effectively encouraging inappropriate development in the Greenbelt by giving developers ammunition for their case. We will use all lawful means to prevent this”