Newsletter Autumn 2002
Our AGM will be on October 19th at Liston Hall Marlow following coffee at 9:30am. The speaker will be Graham Reddie, MBE, founder member of the Midlands Amenity Societies Association (MASA), and now that it has split amoeba-like into two, president of both halves. He knows all there is to know about civic societies, has talked to us before, and in fact helped get us going in the early days.
Persistence, persistence, persistence is a theme that runs through the activities of most civic societies. This is reflected in the content of this Newsletter, and is frequently down to the determination of one or two people. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they are able to recruit a few others to join in.
Anthony Wethered certainly started something with his early ambitions for ANTAS. His contributions from those early days until now have meant that ANTAS is well respected among civic societies. Anthony has now decided that it is time to stand down as our Hon. Secretary. His experience, advice, contacts will be missed, but I hope not totally lost from our future activities. Personally, I am extremely grateful for all the help and support that he has given me both during my time as Chairman of the Marlow Society and in the last two years as Chairman of ANTAS.
Since those early days of ANTAS more people have become involved and contributed to the success of our Association. This has meant that the tasks are spread out and not all on the shoulders of one person. The ANTAS constitution is being changed to reflect the contributions of our Newsletter editor, Merrin Molesworth, and Webmaster, Chris Woodman, and the need to ensure that they are fully involved in helping to ‘steer’ our activities.
I am pleased that the seat left by Anthony will not remain empty. We are fortunate that Andrew Sangster has agreed to become Hon. Secretary – albeit with a different role – I will say more about this at the AGM. This will mean that we will need to call on some of the expertise within ANTAS to help us respond to some planning issues and to respond to consultation documents--not just the people that come along to our meetings, but experts from your Societies.
We have not been very successful in recruiting new members to ANTAS. If we were able to do so, this will help in a number of ways; to benefit from more input and experience, to give us more ‘clout’ and to improve our finances. What can we do to encourage people to join? Why should they join ANTAS? Help us to recruit new members – is there a society near you that is not a member? Will you help to encourage them to join?
I look forward to seeing you at the AGM on 19th October – how appropriate that it is in Marlow, Anthony’s home town.
As usual, our theme at the AGM will be communication, communication, communication.
The Chiltern society are concerned that the consultation results and House of Commons Select Committee comments have been ignored by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The proposal to abolish County Structure Plans is not compatible with Chiltern Society environmental objectives and they maintain that County Councils possess the experience, local knowledge and understanding of their Community Strategies as well as the support of their electorate, and must be incorporated into the new process. Change should clarify and simplify the procedure but will it?
Geoffrey Legge, the Chiltern Society’s Planning Coordinator, invited the head of spatial planning at Bucks County Council David Turner, to address the Society’s executive and planning team on the implications of government proposals to completely change the whole planning system. The government wants speedy decisions but also more housing. Regional Assemblies, currently unelected, will become the focus for Strategic Planning. Whilst acknowledging the need for change to speed up planning, concerns are that roles of county and district councils will be reduced. DT said that government announcements ignore majority views on consultation, are imprecise and often appear unworkable leaving the future responsibilities and status of the Counties and District Councils unclear. The Local Government Association and County Councils Network are pressing for clarification and ‘further guidance’ and legislation are expected in December. Politicians don’t understand that planning is about mediation, an environment where people can have an impact on decisions.
Societies can impact across the new boundaries of the new planning system by working with environmental groups, many of whom have already expressed concerns. Amenity societies should engage more with local community planning authorities. Bucks CC is in the Regional Assembly and DT acknowledges that the Society needs to be kept more informed. DT values close contact with the Chiltern Society. Continuing work on updating County and Local Plans is being encouraged by the Government but they may become redundant after 2004 when the new regime is due.
DT recommended that societies:
· Work with counties on Community Strategies, Appraisals and Action Plans
· Continue to make views known to MPs
· Continue to make position/views known to local authorities
· Establish contacts with SE and East England Regional Assemblies Planning Strategy groups.
He suggested the possibility of sub-regional status for the Chilterns should be further examined.
DT responded to questions on:
· Possible loss of local democracy—shortage of professional planning staff and funding
· Opposition to as yet unelected and remote Regional Assemblies
· The split of the Chilterns between two Regional Assemblies, Regional Development Authorities and Government Offices
· The development of Community Strategies and their relationship to Local Development Frameworks
· Government’s arbitrary allocation of 200,000 houses to the South East and how this will be administered.
But how long will DT remain in post? He mentioned that Oxford Brooks, the largest planning school is struggling to attract students and in his department planning staff are realizing that their jobs may not be survive and are already moving elsewhere.
An Interview with Anthony Wethered
Q. So you're retiring from voluntary work, are you?
A. Yes, for the time being. I've decided to take a gap year the way the young people do. I've done quite a lot, you know. I was a churchwarden and chairman of the restoration ...
Q. I can see you're getting on a bit. What did you do in the war?
A. Well, I only caught the tail end of it. I served in the navy as a "hostilities only" rating. I know it sounds very warlike but I never came under enemy fire–much to the disappointment of my children, I might add.
Q. No real danger then?
A. The nearest I came to danger was when my ship–a Hunt Class destroyer, HMS Wensleydale–was rammed one dark night by another vessel, which turned out to be one of our own. By some miracle no one was seriously hurt, but the ship was beyond repair and had to be broken up.
Q. Sounds terrifying. And after the war?
A. I attended Oxford on a government grant. This was slightly increased when Diana and I married in 1949, but even so she had to work in the college library to enable us make ends meet. In those days the curfew for undergraduates was rather strictly enforced. I had to be back in our Folly Bridge flat by midnight, or else, but of course Diana could have partied into the small hours had she wished.
Q. You read English, I believe. What did that lead to?
A. In those days an English degree would get you a job in publishing if you were lucky. But because it was a so-called glamour industry jobs were both eagerly sought after and poorly paid. In the smaller houses such as the one I found work in, the pay was especially meagre. By the time our second child was on the way, expenses were outstripping income and the bank manager was making worried noises.
Q. Sounds familiar. How did you pacify him?
A. Still hoping to stay in publishing, I started perusing the situations vacant columns and answering anything that sounded promising. I was getting no bites at all when one day Diana picked up the mail and was about to discard a letter marked Reader's Digest–she'd been given a subscription by an aunt and was always getting offers from them–when she noticed that it was addressed to me.
Q. An aunt of yours had given you a subscription?
A. Not quite. I had answered a blind advertisement in The Times and it turned out to have been placed by Reader's Digest. The letter was an invitation to come for an interview.
Q. Did you get the job?
A. Not only that. The Digest was a great company to work for and it expected to pay its employees enough to live on. Moreover, it led to our spending twenty-two years in the United States. How different our lives would have been if that letter had ended up in the wastepaper basket.
Q. They say that if you live long enough in a country other than your own you never really feel at home in either. Was that your experience?
A. Not at all. We were very happy in America and made many friends there, but our old friends here have remained friends and we think we have had the best of both worlds.
Q. What was it like coming back here after all that time?
A. It's true there were some adjustments to be made when we came back in 1983. People looked at us oddly when the new coinage had to be explained to us, or when we asked questions like, "Who's Joanna Lumley?" But it has been a very smooth transition and our annual visits to our family in America keep us in touch with what is happening there.
Q. So, all this voluntary work. What was that about?
A. It was mostly to do with environmental matters. I was chairman of the Marlow Society and ...
Q. I'm sorry, we have run out of time. Have you a final word?
A. I would like to offer a word of advice to anyone about to retire: Don't tell anyone. And especially if, as Diana says of me, you find it difficult to say No.
I am glad to be able to add to the tributes paid to Anthony on his retirement as Hon Secretary of ANTAS.
Ever since ANTAS was first formed, “ANTAS” and “Anthony” have been almost synonymous. The general idea of a grouping of amenity societies in our area had arisen before Anthony came on the scene, but nothing definite had happened. When Anthony became a member of the National Council of Civic Trust Societies he took up the idea and did the hard work needed to bring ANTAS into being. At first he acted as both Secretary and Treasurer, in addition to producing the Newsletter and more recently he has concentrated on acting as Secretary.
As President, I have not been involved in the day-to-day ANTAS activities, but I have been particularly aware of the thoroughness and attention to detail in Anthony’s responses on ANTAS’ behalf to various consultation documents. And, wearing my local hat, when we had a problem in Chesham over a proposed inappropriate extension to the Parish Church, Anthony took the trouble to come and see the problem for himself, so the ANTAS comments to the planners could be strong and authoritative. This contributed to the successful outcome.
So, “Thank you”, Anthony, most warmly, for all your hard work in establishing, and then supporting, ANTAS. You are going to be hugely missed. And “Thank you”, Diana, for supporting Anthony in this, rather than objecting to the amount of time Anthony devoted to ANTAS.
One of the key themes of the Civic Trust Civic is for societies to become more professional in everything they do. And an example of such professionalism is the ANTAS website and the way in which the Association has embraced 'wired-up' electronic communications.
The importance of good communications cannot be overstated. If civic societies are to be successful in influencing a wide variety of stakeholders - local authorities, developers, property owners, transport undertakings, as well as reaching out to a full cross section of the local community, they must be as good at communications as any modern business.
The Civic Trust aims to spread good practice, including communication skills, throughout the civic society movement as well as the newly established regional federations. But to do this it needs a model of what can be achieved, and it is thought that the ANTAS achievement may be well on the way to providing just such an example. Further development is required, and for this it is foreseen that external consultants would need to work with ANTAS and its constituent member societies to refine and progress what has been done so far.
Discussions between the Civic Trust and ANTAS have led to a detailed definition being prepared of just what developments need to be done. Such a project is not limited to websites and emails, but should cover all that represents the public face of civic societies - their letterheads, leaflets, posters, newsletters, all complementing the new technology of electronic communications. This will require external financial support, and already consideration is being given to how this might be secured from appropriate funding bodies.
It is envisaged that external consultants will work to develop all the different types of communications media mentioned above. In the case of websites, the aim is for each ANTAS member society to have its own website, or at least a page on the ANTAS site, and for two member societies to be selected for their sites to be developed as 'exemplar' sites. Similarly, training programmes will be developed to enable wider use to be made of emails as a routine method of communicating. 'Wired-up' committees are already functioning in ANTAS and in a number of societies, and these have been found to be highly effective in exchanging ideas and views between members. Letters, items for newsletters, and even pictures can all be sent in editable form making the societies concerned so much more efficient.
In the case of printed material, two societies will be selected for a complete revamp of their newsletters, perhaps with colour printing, again to serve as exemplars for other civic societies. Advice will also be provided on achieving a fully professional standard in other printed information as a way of building up an overall training package.
Over the next few months, the project team will establish in detail the roles of the various websites and other means of communication. Once suitable external consultants have been identified and funding secured, the work can take place leading ultimately to ANTAS and its member societies communicating more effectively and persuasively both within the societies, and with the wider audience that they need to influence. This in turn will then provide the Civic Trust with a much needed training package for use in developing the strengths of civic societies and regional federations throughout the country.
You may think the headline a bit of a cheat since ANTAS was actually inaugurated in November 1994. Representatives of eleven societies gathered at St Albans to receive the imprimatur from Martin Bradshaw, the then director of the Civic Trust, and hear an eloquent presentation by the secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society, Matthew Saunders. We all then drank a celebratory glass of wine.
But there had been two preliminary meetings that year, one in Aylesbury, the other in Berkhamsted, and the kite-flying one in Chesham the previous year when Graham Reddie exhorted us to "Federate or Bust." Allow a few months for preparatory work and I think it's fair to say "ten years on . . . "
Those were the days of the National Council of Civic Trust Societies with its quarterly meetings in the large conference room at 17 Carlton House Terrace. Environmental issues were debated by delegates from each region of the country and some useful papers were written, some in response to Government consultation papers. What was missing, it seemed to some of us, was the sense that in serving the Council, and through it the Civic Trust, we were also serving the societies we were there to represent. Apart from Graham's MASA (the Midlands Amenity Societies Association, founded in 1986) and the loosely associated grouping known as Southern Comfort, there seemed to be few contacts with, and very little reporting from, the regional grass roots. The obvious first step for an elected delegate was to bring the local societies together, to form an association.
The North Thames Region, as defined by the Civic Trust, was made up of Suffolk, Essex, Herts, Beds and Bucks. Since this was clearly too much for one person to handle, the territory had been subdivided, Suffolk and Essex going to one of us and Beds and Bucks to the other, with Herts being split awkwardly between the two. Fortunately for ANTAS, my colleague soon resigned from the Council, and when no replacement could be found we were able to claim the rest of Herts. (I don't know what happened to Essex and Suffolk.) Beds, it seems, has an aversion to civic society movements: "It's because I live there," Martin Bradshaw used to say.
Today, our sixteen civic societies (ten from Bucks, six from Herts) live comfortably together despite finding themselves divided between two of Mr Prescott's regions. As has often been said, the two counties have far more in common with each other than Bucks does with Brighton or Herts with the Thames Estuary. Our close links with the Civic Trust are maintained by Carolyn Cumming (Buckingham), who serves on the Regional Committee and on CT South East, where she has been joined by our newsletter editor Merrin Molesworth (Chesham), while Andrew Sangster (Hertford) is a member of CT East.
Now, ten years on, seems a good time to give ourselves a performance rating. As the outgoing hon. secretary, let me offer a view of where have we succeeded and where we "could do better."
One has only to hear the decibel level during the coffee period to know that people have found lots to talk about. And the meetings themselves have surely proved their usefulness in terms of airing problems and exchanging information. Over the years we have supported our members with planning issues, how effectively is hard to judge, but it is important that societies remember that we are there to help - not least because the higher our profile with local planning authorities the more attention they will pay us.
To some extent the same is true of our responses to government consultation papers. When these were being submitted on a regular basis one was encouraged to think that, while they might not cause a government U-turn, they were at least being taken into account. To care enough to read a Green Paper and respond to it does win you a place at the table. Through no one's fault, our submissions have tended to dry up recently, but they are there in our Policy Statement and we should try to resume them.
As with so many organizations, too few people are doing too much of the work. There is lots of expertise in our member societies but too little of it is coming ANTAS's way. The load must be spread quite a bit if ANTAS is to rise to its full potential.
Finally, of course, we need to build up our membership, both to give us more clout and to improve our finances. It was the chief planning officer of St Albans who told Peter Trevelyan, "If your society isn't a member of ANTAS, it ought to be." That's the message we must get across to societies reluctant to join. We have an excellent trumpet; we should blow it more loudly.
Michael Hyde, Vice-Chairman of the Marlow Society
“Marlow is one of the pleasantest river centres I know of. It is a bustling, lively little town, not very picturesque on the whole, it is true, but there are many quaint nooks and corners to be found in it …” said Jerome K. Jerome in 1888 in his wonderful tale Three Men in a Boat. Perhaps little has changed, but you can judge for yourself.
In ancient times you would probably have approached this swampy area by dugout canoe, or drifted downstream on a raft made of branches and or reeds. It could be hazardous, especially with the river in flood or to avoid raiding tribes. That King William I should have given the land to his wife, Queen Matilda, must have meant it had a lot to commend it even in pre-Norman times. So arose “Merlaw(e)” from the Saxon drained mere or lake, subsequently becoming “Merlaue” under the Normans as they finished the drainage work.
Before the coming of the railways Marlow was a great centre for barge traffic. Grain, wool or timber from the surrounding farms and woodland would be brought to the wharves at the end of what is now the High Street for shipment downstream as far as London. The bridge in those days crossed over from what is now St Peter’s Street, formerly Duck Lane named for the ducking stool that stood there. A wooden structure supposedly built by the Knights Templar, then in occupation of Bisham Abbey, the bridge was declared unsafe in the late 18th century and was replaced. But with business expanding and traffic building up, a more robust crossing was required, and 1832 saw the opening of William Tierney Clark’s famous suspension bridge. A larger sister bridge by him spans the Danube between Buda and Pest in Hungary.
Among St Peter’s Street’s many attractions are the late 18th century Old Malt House, the Two Brewers public house, Pugin’s St Peter’s Church, and the 14th century Old Parsonage, probably the oldest house in the town. Facing down the street from across Station Road is the grandiose Marlow Place, rumoured to have been a residence of Frederick Prince of Wales, the son of George II.
The new road alignment on the Berkshire bank skirted the Compleat Angler (which takes its name from Isaac Walton) and joined Marlow’s Causeway and High Street on the Buckinghamshire side of the river. This is the most attractive approach to the town. To the right is All Saints Church, believed to be the third church built on the site, completed in 1835 but with additions and improvements in the late 19th century. It is a wonderfully bright, light, friendly-feeling church and worth a visit inside and out.
The High Street is a broad avenue of shops, restaurants and finance houses in an attractive mixture of periods and styles. As in most towns nowadays, company titles or logos and brand names proliferate at high window level, objects of constant supervision in planning terms. From the air, the long narrow plots running at right angles to the street are still obvious. Rooflines are not uniform, frontages sometimes hiding earlier façades and wattle walls between premises or rooms. The principal feature of the town centre was once the Wethered brewery, now a mainly residential development that faithfully retains the character of the original and many of its buildings.
At the upper end of the High Street is the Market Square, dominated by the south-facing Crown Hotel. At one time this building was the town hall, hence the clock tower, while the Crown occupied the former market hall with its low arches, next door. In front of them stands the old mileage post, an obelisk recording the distances from Hatfield and Bath.
The centre of the town is shaped like a T, with Spittal and Chapel Streets leading off to the east, towards Bourne End or High Wycombe, depending upon which route you take. West Street, leading to the Henley road, has many historic buildings, from The Ship Inn as far as Western House, dated 1699. Thomas Love Peacock and T.S. Eliot each lived in West Street for a while. Beyond Quoiting Square is a run of cottages, formerly one house and once occupied by the Shelley family. Frankenstein was born here. Other monsters of a younger age might be said to attend next door at Sir William Borlase’s School, founded in 1624 to accept twelve boys for two years, whose parents were too poor to pay for their education. Almost opposite is Remnantz, c. 1720, which from 1802 to 1812 housed the junior branch of the Royal Military College, now at Sandhurst, before becoming the home of the Wethered family.
Marlow is favoured, by its proximity to the Chilterns and the River Thames, for pleasant walks and open vistas. It also has a number of parks and recreational areas, the most popular being Higginson Park which borders on the river. With its house, Court Garden, it was privately owned until 1920 when the local council acquired it for a leisure centre. The acquisition coincided with the hundredth birthday of General Sir George Higginson, local resident, Crimean War veteran and aide to Queen Victoria. At a reception in his honour, Princess Mary presented him with the keys to the property, whereupon he ceremoniously handed them back to the town. This year her Majesty the Queen came to Marlow and unveiled a statue of Sir Steve Redgrave, five times an Olympic gold medal winner for rowing.
Marlovians have a lot of civic pride and have fought bureaucracy as well as developers to retain what is best. In 1960, when the County Council was planning to replace Tierney Clark’s suspension bridge with one better able to withstand modern traffic, a strong and vocal preservation committee went into action. The bridge was saved and is now a Grade 1 listed building. That committee subsequently became the Marlow Society, which to this day continues to act as a watchdog over all planning matters.
When the brewery closed down in 1987, permission was sought to redevelop the site as a five-acre shopping mall complete with a giant superstore. The planners appeared to be for it, but the Society believed that a residential development would be more in keeping with the town centre. Once again a committee was formed, funds were raised, consultants and a barrister hired. A long and difficult fight ensued, but eventually the Society prevailed and Marlow acquired a housing development it can be proud of.
Like similar bodies throughout the UK, the Society monitors all planning applications and contributes to discussions of Local Plans and other proposals emanating from local and central government. Away from the river it jealously guards the Green Belt protection that is drawn tightly around the town, as well as the AONB status that covers most of the Chilterns up to our doorstep. Another concern is noise pollution, from bypass road traffic as well as from helicopters and airliners. Earlier this summer, Society representatives joined local MPs at the House of Commons to discuss noise abatement on the A404 with the Under Secretary of State for Transport.
The Society has an active Local History Committee, which not only studies artefacts that come its way, but tape-records the memories of elderly residents, produces first-class publications, and arranges interesting talks by experts in their fields. We enjoy good relationships with other like-minded bodies and recently set up a River Thames Liaison Group together with the Chiltern Society. We are also strong supporters of ANTAS and look forward to hosting their AGM here on 19th October.
For the last ten years the Beaconsfield Society has held an “Awareness day” (morning) to provide a shop window for the many local voluntary societies and clubs to show residents what they do and hopefully acquire more members. Societies and clubs are invited to set up a stall outside the Town Hall in mid June, and many bring gazebos and run games and competitions to raise money. One group (usually the Guides or the WI) is asked to sell refreshments. We invite the Police, the Fire Brigade and the Mayor and elected members of the council.
The year was our best Awareness day with almost 50 groups on the green.
High Wycombe aired their innovative transport ideas by holding a workshop on Demand Responsive Transport (DRT). Mobisoft UK, suppliers of software systems for DRT, outlined their experience in Finland in cooperation with Nokia. Some EU countries are participating in projects, nominally for ‘shared taxis’, but in reality much more varied and more revolutionary. Key DRT features are a dispatch (call) centre, satellite location systems, a communications system (via the mobile phone network) that links the various computers, and smart card payment systems.
Computerisation means local knowledge is unnecessary, dispatch centres can be miles away, and vehicles do not ply fixed routes. The computer chooses the vehicle and the driver is automatically advised of pick-ups. In the UK, experience is building up. A study by Newcastle University concluded that ‘deviated fixed routes’ are often the most efficient way to run DRT services and DRT has succeeded in providing ‘feeder services’ to longer-distance buses. Big savings are made compared to extensive ad hoc use of taxis by for example, health and social services. Some counties have created their own dispatch centres and others have ‘bought in’ to an existing centre. A Wiltshire trial works with only 60-15 minutes notice.
All speakers showed great enthusiasm for DRT. Wycombe District Council’s Leisure Development Officer would use DRT to transport customers and staff to/from Handy Cross Sports Centre. BAA at Heathrow are cajoling airport users out of cars. Wycombe Hospital Trust reported dire car parking problems obliging expenditure on taxis to take employees to their distant cars.