Bravo Residents of Amersham!

The Chiltern District Council Planning Committee Meeting considering the application for the development of 67-75 Sycamore Road, took a rather unexpected turn.

The Chairman announced an 11th-hour amendment by the developers, committing to 100% of the ground floor for A1 retail. This replaced an amendment to the original application, which allowed for approximately 50% of the ground floor A1 retail space (a minimum of 370m2), with a minimum of 50% of the shopping frontage (15m) limited to A1 retail use. The remaining 373m2 would be for uses A1/A3, with a restaurant (A3) generally assumed to be the preferred option of the developers.

wolfie smith - power to the peopleThe developers, through their agent, recognised the strength of local feeling, and that this had been the reason for the amendment.

When the Planning Committee voted, all bar one voted to accept the Planning Officer’s recommendation to “Defer – minded to approve subject to the prior completion of Legal Agreement. Decision delegated to Head of Sustainable Development.” The one dissenting vote was on the grounds of overdevelopment and insufficient parking.

Some may feel that that this was a sell-out. Views were expressed that it would be massively preferable to insist on a food/grocery store; that perhaps some of the first floor could be designated A1 (as currently the case); an argument was made that the space for A1 retail was being reduced from a current 1296m2 to 743m2; it was suggested by one Councillor that the £250,000 apparently being offered as an affordable housing contribution was “almost insulting”.

Two key points were explained by the Chair of the Committee and other Councillors: first, that they have no powers to prescribe what TYPE of A1 retail should occupy the space, whatever their preference, and those of residents; and secondly, that they need to be cognisant at all times of the planning regulations – otherwise applications turned down will be reversed, with some undesirable consequences.

From a practical and pragmatic point of view, Chiltern Chamber regards this as a victory for the residents of Amersham, and those who have campaigned against the previous applications. Comparing the apparent current A1 retail space of more than 1,200m2 with the proposed 743m2 is a red herring. Probably, few people at the meeting even realised that the A1 space currently extends to the first floor of the current buildings. More sensible is to compare the current ground floor A1 space, which we understand to be 810m2, with the proposed 743m2, with service area of 168m2.

Moroever, though we don’t know the floor space of the old Iceland store, it would only have been a proportion of the 810m2 – let’s say perhaps 550m2. And if that was viable, then a 743m2 site ought to be.

All of which brings us back to the preferred usage of the site. Few people present at the meeting doubted that the preferable use of the site, from the point of view of vitality of the high street, would be an ‘anchor’, low-cost grocery/food store. CDC has no power to enforce this, but as expressed in particular by Cllr Jane MacBean and the Committee Chairman, it is to be hoped fervently that a ‘market solution’ can be reached, whereby such a store will take the space from the developers.

No doubt, too, there are details that will need to be ironed out. In particular, if the space is to be taken by a food/grocery store, how will the large delivery vehicles which service such stores be accommodated?