Jun 142020

Comments on the amendments to Human+Nature’s Outline Planning application for Gomm Valley, 19/05281/OUTEA, by the Ashwells Forum Working Party for Tylers Green.  The Working Party includes representatives from Chepping Wycombe Parish Council, the Penn & Tylers Green Residents Society and neighbouring residents

Our comments on the original application (copy attached, dated 28 Feb 19, sent on 12 March 19), included a summary of the lengthy and complex Design & Access Statement.   We urged all parties to support the application because after a long and careful review we had concluded that Human Nature do have the ability to succeed in their aspiration of creating a benchmark project, a place of national significance.

We came to this conclusion despite having spent some 30 years opposing development of any kind in the valley, including valiant attempts to get it included in the AONB and in the Green Belt.  Indeed, only a few years ago, Wycombe District Council (WDC) supported us in this endeavour which we jointly presented to the Local Plan Inspector, but the Inspector, whilst agreeing that the landscape value of the valley merited AONB status, ruled decisively that the valley must remain as a land bank for future house-building.  WDC then had no choice but to obey this ruling and draw up a Development Brief which would pass the critical scrutiny of the next Local Plan Inspector.   It is the Development Brief which now decides the areas in which houses will be built, not the developer.

The question now is therefore not whether or where homes are to be built in the valley, it is what type of development do we wish to see?   The likely alternative to Human+Nature is run-of-the-mill, unrelated groups of houses built by a volume housebuilder concerned only by profit, unwilling to make an expensive sinuous road, happy to widen parts of Cock Lane, unconcerned about more traffic past our Middle School, and with far fewer green, sustainable ambitions and enthusiasm for public access.

Our original comments included a list of reasons for our support of the application and we now review these reasons in the light of the modest amendments, all of which have already been discussed and agreed in principle with the relevant statutory consultees, and seem to us to represent an improvement on the original.

a) The spine road through the new development, from the London Road to join Cock Lane, was to be narrow, sinuous with hair-pin bends, designed to discourage through traffic.   This remains the case and the proposed junction with Cock Lane has been moved north to near the phone mast on the southern boundary of the Ashwells site, with the spine road connecting as the minor road of a T-junction.  This can be seen as an intrusion into the 200m separation between communities required by the Planning Inspector, but its beneficial effect is to limit the widening of Cock Lane to the 150m length alongside the Ashwells site leaving 650m unwidened, reduces the loss of hedgerow for visibility splays, and allows an improvement to the right of way crossing Cock Lane at that point.

b) The forecast increase of traffic on Cock Lane in the AM peak hour arising from the new houses was predicted to be very low.   Our own detailed analysis of the revised traffic flow data confirms that this is still the case with a forecast for two-way flows at the AM peak hour past the Middle School reduced from an estimated 1,500 v/hr to around current levels at about 400 v/hr.

It appears that the BCC Highways modelling now reflects the Development Brief requirement:

The purpose of this Spine Road is to distribute traffic from the development.  It is not intended to act as an unofficial ‘bypass’ as this would be detrimental to Penn and Tylers Green due to the increase in through traffic.  The capacity of the spine road and the northern end of Cock Lane, must therefore be restricted through effective traffic calming to deter through traffic.

c) Three-quarters of the valley, some 109 acres, will remain in a natural state, converted to species-rich grassland with more than 4,000 new trees and the unbuilt green areas will be gifted to a Gomm Valley charitable trust in perpetuity, for the benefit of local inhabitants.  The public will have access along all-weather paths to most of the valley, whereas there is almost none at present.  This important component has been enhanced by enhanced by improvements in the provision of play and green spaces so that there are now larger localised park spaces for each of the four villages.

d) Human+Nature’s ambition is to create a community rather than just another housing estate on the edge of town and they have made great efforts to achieve this with all the measures described in our earlier Summary, including a school and a village centre with shops, a restaurant and a Post Office.  This ambition is entirely in accord with the Government’s latest thinking.  Sir Roger Scruton, the recently deceased chairman of a new public body, ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’, called for beautiful and sustainable housing using local materials, emphasising the importance of building with a centre where people can meet, not just ‘dropping little boxes into an empty field’.  

e) The buildings will be as ‘green’ as they can make them, aiming for a 35% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions, with ‘green’ roofs, or solar panels where possible.  A shuttle bus to Wycombe and active encouragement for cycling and walking is enhanced by the new provision for a continuous 3m wide shared cycle/pedestrian route alongside the roads.

f)  All these desirable measures are very expensive and the 400 plus houses originally envisaged by the Development Brief cannot possibly support a development of this quality. 981 dwellings are proposed, and this is indeed a very large increase, with implications including increased traffic and pollution, and does need to be fully justified.  Human Nature point out that whereas the original Brief envisaged largely 3 & 4-bedroom houses, over 50% of their housing would be 1 or 2-bedroom dwellings resulting in a development of 981 dwellings occupying 8% of the valley compared with the original Council proposal of 400 dwellings requiring a development area of 5% to 6% of the land.

g) The application proposes that ‘reasonable provision’ will be made for affordable housing, at a level and mix to be established during the determination of the planning application.  We see this as an important provision.  The Planning Statement adds that the development will comprise ‘a high-quality mix of residential units, including self-build’, at a level to be agreed with the Council via a S106 Agreement. 

Our conclusion

Human Nature declare their intention of creating ‘the greenest and most elegant new place in England…. ‘ a place of national significance’.  We feel that they are making every possible effort to achieve this and so give our strong support to this revised application for all the reasons outlined above.

These views are supported by the P&TG Residents Society and by the Ashwells Forum, but are subject to a cast-iron assurance that the measures set out in this revised outline application will be carried out as promised and not passed to a less conscientious developer.

                                                                                                                                           Miles Green

Chairman PTGRS & Ashwells Forum

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