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Overview - Sept 2018
Our Hon Secretary, George Lawrence, has recently compiled the following report which he has sent to ANTAS, the Association of North Thames Amenity Societies. ANTAS brings together societies like ours that take an interest in sustaining heritage and the towns in which we live. I hope this will expand your understanding of what the Marlow Society has achieved recently.
Marlow Society report for ANTAS Annual General Meeting 2018
Update on last year's concerns
• Unitary authority
The Society's strong preference is for a dual unitary authority in Buckinghamshire. Experience is that Aylesbury is too remote geographically for Marlow to be able to receive the sympathetic conversation with Aylesbury that we enjoy with Wycombe council's members and officers.
An open letter from the Chairman of a local parish council calling for the two-unitary solution was published in the Society's Newsletter. The Society's Chairman wrote to the Secretary of State to emphasise that effective localism required the two-unitary arrangement.
• Public access to traditionally available areas
Portlands, an area to the west of High Street, has been developed with housing. The Society continues to press the local planning authority to enforce the obligation to enable free transit across the site between the west of the town and the High Street. Currently the agreed routes are closed with gates, one of which is frequently locked, while the other is unsuitable for the physically disabled.
With strong and unified opposition from Town and District Councils, Chamber of Trade and the Society, Transport for Bucks backed down on the intention to install a payment scheme for parking in the centre of Town. There were no benefits for the Town, simply cash for Aylesbury to pay for wardens.
• Environment Agency
The EA's ability to get things done seems to have declined. There are flood prevention works in three areas of the town and two have become delayed - one due to difficulty in sourcing 'the right kind of soil'. This has prevented public use of parts of a public park and also an area of the Town's sports club. The third area, a flood balancing lagoon, is already filled, with groundwater and makes no contribution to flood prevention for Marlow's housing.
Some of the EA's responsibilities in managing the River Thames were privatised in the spun-off River Thames Alliance. However EA is no longer a member of that body which has itself apparently fallen into chaos.
Protection of our 1832 suspension bridge was the reason that the Marlow Society was formed over fifty years ago. We are now fighting again to protect the bridge from overweight vehicles following the incident with a forty-ton truck. Interworking between Highways England (who manage the town's A404 bypass) and Transport for Bucks (who look after the other northern roads and the bridge structure) and Berkshire (who look after signage on the southern roads) is very poor. When the bypass was closed last month for maintenance, all traffic was allowed to attempt to cross the bridge leading to havoc.
The Society's proposals for protection of the bridge published following the truck incident two years ago have been incorporated into the Bucks protection plans. But these are taking too long to implement. The Bucks CC estimates that it will be a further two years before camera based detection of overweight vehicle can be implemented. Meanwhile 446 overweight vehicles were recently recorded crossing the bridge in a 12 hour period.
Advances in Marlow in the last year
• Public realm improvements
Spittal Street - one of the Town's three main thoroughfares has been smartened-up under a scheme coordinated by the Town Council but including substantial money from Sorbon Estates which own many of the commercial properties and with inputs from District and Bucks highways. The result, although there are some items on the Clerk's 'snagging list', is a brighter and somewhat more pedestrian-friendly street.
• Air Quality Management Area
The three main Town Centre streets have been designated an AQMA by the District Council. This leads to additional planning controls on adjacent developments to protect users from the nitrogen dioxide pollution from the motor traffic. It also gives weight to schemes to reduce the traffic and we also hope to leverage AQMA to improve provision for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Obelisk in Market Square marking the coaching route from Hatfield has now been carefully restored. This involved infilling replacement material of parts spalled off the Portland stone plinth. The remaining incised letters were repainted. The missing sections of text were recreated from archive photographs and the lettering and simply repainted. The end result is a spectacular improvement. There is talk of installing uplighters to draw attention to the monument at night. The Society's campaign for the restoration began in 2012.
• Heritage Open Day
This year the Society arranged a celebration of Extraordinary Women in commemoration of the extension of the suffrage in 1918. A local house where the Bloomsbury Group met was opened for the day and displays put on there in conjunction with Marlow Museum and the Marlow Remembers WW1 Association. The day was very popular.
• Member volunteers
Several Members have come forward to help with Local History Group archiving work and one Member has joined executive committee, following the appeal for volunteers reported last year. This will allow more work on the history of the Town.
A preliminary list of Members interested in more regular email contact has been created and experimental news digests distributed. This will now be extended.
• History Boards
Three boards with content created by the Society's Local History Group have been installed recently. These are approximately 1m wide and 0.5m deep and are mounted at around 1.5m above the ground on supports. The three recent boards show in historic photographs and large text the histories of the Town's brewery, the original station, and the Portlands area. The boards have been sponsored by developers of adjacent residential schemes. Planning is underway for further boards.
Points to Share
• Restoring the Rights
The Town Council has asked for evidence in support of footpath rights of way in a town centre commercial and residential courtyard. With a cut-off date for registration of public rights of way looming, the aim is to get these long-used paths recorded on the definitive County map.
Compiled by Hon Secretary