Association of North Thames Amenity Societies



Newsletter Spring 2001


Alan Percy Walter’s sketch of Buckingham Old Town Mill

Meeting at Buckingham, Tanlaw Mill,
Saturday 21st April 2001


Carolyn Cumming will speak about the Buckingham Society's “Vision and Design Statement” - a guide to best practice in planning and conservation for a small market town. It is well written and produced, does not waste words, is easy to read and attractively illustrated. And it is full of good sense. It is the product of months of research and consultation. It is a model that all civic societies would do well to consider taking up, and likely to be adopted by the Aylesbury Vale District Council.

Click to see script of Carolyn Cumming's talk.

Inside this Issue…

Chairman’s Address

Chesham Clock Tower and Civic Trust Involvement

Local Plan Withdrawn, Spanner in the Works for Herts?

Proliferation of Road Signs

Hertfordshire Urban Renaissance

National Urban Forestry Unit

Wandering Green Belt Boundary

Website On Line



The Association of North Thames Amenity Societies

President:  Jennifer Moss, J.P.

Dr Peter Diplock

Vice President
Ian Morgan

Hon Secretary
Anthony Wethered*

Vice Chairman
John Davies

Hon Treasurer
Ronald Sims

Vice Chairman
Peter Trevelyan

*Correspondence to:  Remnantz, West Street, Marlow, Bucks, SL7 2BS
email:  wethered@remnantz.freeserve.co.uk


ANTAS Newsletter Produced, Published and Edited by Merrin Molesworth

Telephone:                        01494 773381                    Email:  merrin@lineone.net

Printer:                              Hemel Copy Print, 102 London Road, Apsley
Hemel Hempstead  HP3 9SD                  01442 212636


Member Societies

Amersham Society

Hitchin Society

Aylesbury Society

Hoddesdon Society

Beaconsfield Society

Marlow Society

Buckingham Society

Potters Bar Society

Chesham Society

Radlett Society

Hertford Society

St Albans Society

High Wycombe Society

Stony Stratford Community Association

Hitcham & Taplow Preservation Society

Wendover Society

Reciprocal Membership

Chiltern Society

London Forum




From the Chairman

Peter Diplock


This is my first introduction to the ANTAS Newsletter. I would like begin by adding my thanks to Ian Morgan for his many contributions both to the development of ANTAS and support for individual Societies. Fortunately his help, support and advice will remain available as he was elected Vice-President at the AGM.  ANTAS has always operated with a very small committee, but I am very pleased that an additional Vice Chairman, Peter Trevelyan, was elected in at the last AGM. This should enable us to pursue more themes of importance to our members. I am pleased that Anthony Wethered is remaining as Hon. Sec., and will continue to provide us with his guidance and advice.

The exchange of intelligence and information is very important to the success of an organisation like ANTAS. We have only two meetings each year, but need to rely on more frequent exchanges of information. When people get together at the meetings they begin to develop a network and know who to contact. The exchange of Newsletters is an important part of this information exchange. The internet also provides us with an opportunity to develop the ANTAS network and access to information.

I am always delighted to receive offers of help from people. Chris Woodman offered to help us set up an ANTAS web site. There is an article in this Newsletter that provides some more information about the site. Please try to visit the site before our next meeting and think about how it can help your Society. The site is at an early stage of development, but shows the potential of this medium for sharing information, concerns, helping to solve problems etc. As with all things it will rely on the contributions of the many rather than expect a few people to do everything. In addition it will provide a forum for members to ‘network’ between meetings. I believe that this is a very important step in the development of ANTAS.

On a personal note, I would like to receive Newsletters from each Society, and also receive other information about current local issues so that I can see whether there are any themes developing. At present the activities of ‘so called’ utility companies in digging up roads is the focus of some of my attention. Are you plagued by these? If so, let me know – preferably by e-mail.

I look forward to serving ANTAS and its members, and hope that each member Society is represented at our meetings.

Local Plan Withdrawn

John Davies

In a quite remarkable and perhaps unprecedented development last December, North Hertfordshire District Council unanimously decided to withdraw their draft Local Plan.  The draft was at an advanced stage of preparation, and had been "on deposit" for public consultation early last year.  Although many of the policies in the draft Plan were highly desirable, the draft was strongly criticised by many local people for its plans to permit house building in the Green Belt west of Stevenage.

When the Plan was being drawn up, the District Council believed that they had no alternative but to incorporate in the Local Plan the provisions in the County Structure Plan for building up to 10,000 houses west of Stevenage, releasing 2½ square miles of Green Belt countryside for urban development.  In practice, Hertfordshire's Structure Plan only foresaw 3,600 houses being completed there within the then current planning period, and the District Council therefore seized the opportunity of limiting the scope within the Local Plan to this lower number.  It nevertheless still represented a fundamental breach of the Green Belt boundary defined by the line of the A1(M) motorway.  This would have paved the way for further highly damaging development, making it almost inevitable that the original plan for 10,000 houses would ultimately be realised.

However, with the publication of PPG3, it at once became clear that government policy now requires a sequential approach based on an Urban Capacity Study before any major greenfield development is permitted.  This was certainly not done when the original decision was made by the County Council to approve West of Stevenage, and therefore legal opinion is that the policy is "non-compliant" with PPG3.

The District Council could have pressed on with their draft plan right up to a Public Inquiry.  But they would then have faced a barrage of opposition from campaign groups showing that the plan was in conflict with official policy.  Planning inspectors taking their instructions from PPG3 have already showing a willingness to reject plans that do not comply.  An inspector holding an Inquiry elsewhere in the south east said it would be an "irresponsible and profligate use of land to proceed with the proposals and build on such a large tract of open countryside without the sure knowledge of the capacity of built up areas to take more housing" and "the issues at stake are so serious, and the consequences irreversible, that I believe it would be quite wrong to proceed with the current proposals without the sequential approach having been followed."  One wonders what he would have said about West of Stevenage!

The withdrawal of the North Herts draft Local Plan is not without its problems, not least because many of the policies in the Plan (other than West of Stevenage) are urgently needed, and delay is now inevitable in getting these in place.  However, still more delay would have occurred if the Council had insisted on progressing a seriously flawed Plan to Public Inquiry, with the inevitable rejection and need for extensive revisions at that late stage.  Meanwhile, the developers, seeing their £1 billion scheme slipping from their grasp, have applied for a judicial review of the Council's decision, and may well put in a planning application in the hope of forcing the pace to a Public Inquiry.

Whatever happens, West of Stevenage will not simply go away.  It is unlikely that an Urban Capacity Study in North Herts alone will come up with sufficient housing opportunities to replace West of Stevenage.  It is necessary for all the Districts and Boroughs in Hertfordshire (ten in total) to find suitable brownfield sites for housing, and inevitably some will be less committed to the search than others.

So, the withdrawal of the North Herts draft Local Plan is an important milestone for campaigners in the fight to save the Green Belt west of Stevenage, and for the first time it puts the developers on the defensive.  However, campaign groups will need to remain vigilant while Urban Capacity Studies are being undertaken and evaluated, a new Local Plan for North Herts is formulated, and throughout the long period of development of a new County Structure Plan.  It is only when such plans are formally adopted, without policies for building on the Green Belt west of the A1(M), that we will know the threat is finally over.

The End of the Road

Roger Scruton

The following article was published in FT Business Weekend Magazine on 27th January 2001. It was written by Roger Scruton and is reproduced with the permission of the FT.

An obsession with pointless road signs is bad news for the country lane as we know it.

Not far from here (sic) lies Braydon Pond, set among woodlands and expanded to a lake in Victorian times. A lane runs past the water, travelling from nowhere to nowhere and carrying only a few vehicles each day. The lane crosses a causeway, beneath which the overflow cascades into a stream and thence to the River Avon.

Standing on this causeway you can watch the mallards, herons, moorhens, swans and grebes which have made their home on the water. There are the winter visitors widgeon, shelduck and snipe ‑ and the marauding seabirds from our depleted shores. It is our local beauty spot, a place where lonely people feed the ducks, where others take their dogs and their children, where elderly couples rediscover romance, where you can ride a horse without being driven into the ditch, where you can stand and dream and listen to the lonely cry of the heron above the sound of running water.

However, following a succession of dry summers, the causeway began to subside. The local council decided to close the road, drain the pond and make a few repairs. For a year or more the pond stood almost dry, the herons feasting on the carp that thrashed in the muddy puddles. The shells of freshwater mussels littered the cracked perimeter and the lake gave up its store of jam jars, jerrycans, car tyres and bicycles. It was a grim time for us, and when at last the engineers came to rebuild the road, we welcomed them like a relieving army.

Imagine our distress, therefore, when the job was completed and the council decided that motorists would now need instructions to cross the narrow causeway. Vast metal signs were put up at 50‑yard intervals: the first in red, announcing that new arrangements are approaching; the next also in red, saying that a sign will soon be visible; the third, triangular and in luminous yellow, announcing the imminence of a fourth sign declaring that the road ‑ which is visibly wide enough for only one vehicle ‑ is indeed wide enough for only one vehicle.

At this point a final sign appears, exhorting the driver to give way to oncoming traffic ‑ traffic that is certain not to exist, and which in any case has to descend a hill in complete visibility for half a mile before reaching the causeway. The same sequence of hysterical signs ascends the hill on the other side, the whole amounting to some thousands of pounds worth of junk metal in loud primary colours, situated at the one sensitive point where the beauty of the pond can be appreciated, and so removing the only reason why anyone would want to come this way in the first place.

Naturally enough, we complained to be greeted by the well‑known and cavernous silence of bureaucracy. The only hope now ‑ no doubt forlorn ‑ is a petition signed by all those dog­walkers, ramblers, birdwatchers and lonely hearts who used to frequent the causeway precisely because they are not the kind of people who sign petitions and who in any case no longer come now that the place has been desecrated.

The disaster of signs is as much moral as aesthetic. Road signs constitute both an arrogant invasion of privacy and a destruction of public space. Braydon Pond was a communal place where people would pass each other with polite words and genial nods, recognising their equal title to a shared tranquillity. Now it is overlooked by instructions thrown out with the visual equivalent of a sergeant‑major's bark, designed not to harmonise but to be dissonant, abolish tranquillity and unsettle the soul. Braydon Pond, they tell us, is not yours but no one's.

Road signs belong to a growing habit of rudeness, not only in day‑to‑day manners but in architecture, clothing, gardens, cars ‑ anything, in short, that is publicly observable. Modernist architecture offends because it is offensive ‑ designed to stand out, rather than fit in. The same goes for shop signs and adverts. These do not petition for a modest share of a space acknowledged to be everyone's, but loudly declare their self‑centred needs.

Things were not always so. Notices used to be composed in sober lettering.  Shop fronts and street signs would be discreet, dignified and withdrawn deferring to the public space and stopping at its threshold. If they had an imperative message then they put on a uniform, like the coat of arms on the village post office. There was a general recognition that human society is a real but delicate thing, which must take precedence over any cry for attention.

The rudeness of road signs is not just a denial of good manners but also a refusal to acknowledge that manners exist ‑ a refusal to negotiate with other, or to relinquish their space. Of course, signs are like this because it helps them to perform their function, which is to prevent accidents. But that is why they are so dislikable. They remind us that risk is being expropriated by the bureaucrats, and with it all the social virtues that have risk as their foundation. When motorists must use their eyes and their common sense to pass each other, they become conscious of the danger and co‑operative in avoiding it. That is what made the lane by Braydon Pond a human place, a place where motorists were civil to each other and to those who haunted the causeway. Its transformation into a junkyard is part of the relentless grinding‑down of our community by the rules and regulations that forbid society in the name of the state. ©FT

Sympathy goes to the custodians of so much of our beautiful countryside, the beleaguered farmers of this precious land whose livelihood is still under threat, or worse, from foot and mouth disease.


Persistence and Vision Pay Off

Merrin Molesworth

The Chesham Society had a gratifying success just in time to give Chesham an encouraging seasonal present.  Their plan to make the 1992 clock tower more attractive and user friendly was at last approved, but only after an inquiry. 

Historically Chesham did have a landmark 18th century Town Hall (albeit with later additions).  However it fell into disrepair so when a relief road for the High Street was planned in the 1960s Planners had no qualms about demolition.  The Chesham Society mounted a campaign for the building’s retention and succeeded in having it listed as Grade II.  They commissioned plans for the necessary refurbishment which caused controversy until preservation was approved at an inquiry. But while the next step was deliberated, ‘dangerous’ falling tiles precipitated the then Urban District Council to demolish!  The architect, Sir Albert Richardson PRA, produced plans for a clock tower echoing the style of the defunct Town Hall, and the Chesham Society were proud when the replacement tower was built almost thirty years later.

However in retrospect, and with fresh architectural opinion, from Michael O’Leary, Dip Hons Dist, RIBA, the clocktower’s shortcomings have been recognized.  It fulfils no function (except to house the original clock which is prone to stopping) and the scale bears little relationship to humans with the archway almost 4.5 metres above ground and forbidding railings in two of the archways. 

The Chesham Society sought to make the Clock Tower – in fact the whole Market Square area, more user friendly.  A permanent glazed iron veranda and the lowering of the floor to ground level was proposed, to enable it to be used for market stalls, second hand book sales, art exhibitions, occasional restaurant seating, or just a shelter from the rain!  Supplementary awning roof ‘sails’ could be hooked to the corners giving temporary cover to the whole of Market Square for events such as festivals.

The Society decided to take the initiative and apply themselves for Planning consent.  Approval was recommended by the Planning Officer, so imagine the dismay when the application was turned down!  Dark mutterings were made about one or two vociferous councillors who resent amenities Chesham has which they do not!  The Chiltern District Council Planning Department, while admired for its speed, was burdened by a negative outlook that restricted innovation. 

Eventually vision and persistence paid off and approval was granted for the Clock Tower.  The inspector, a qualified Architect said “It is my view that the glazed extension would enhance the character and appearance of the clock tower, not just for itself, but also for the Market Square generally.  … the proposals, by enhancing the public area would also enhance the setting of the listed buildings and this Conservation Area as a whole.”  The whole site visit took just over four minutes!  The Chesham Society plan to use the approval as impetus for a review of the centre of Chesham.  Signage, planting, lighting, paving and of course traffic, are being looked at by everyone involved with the aim of achieving unity.

The project as written up in the Focus newsletter, caught the eye of Richard Scott, recently appointed Reginal Heritage Officer of the Civic Trust who has taken an interest in helping the Society to raise the funds for the most ambitious project in their 40+ year history.  See it on http://www.civictrust.org.uk/csocs/news.shtml, about half way down the ‘page’.


Hertfordshire Urban Renaissance

John Davies

Well in advance of the recent Urban While Paper, and indeed before the publication last spring of the revised PPG3, Hertfordshire County Council launched a Town Renaissance Campaign with the prime purpose of encouraging more housing to be built within existing settlements.  The background to this campaign includes the need to establish a robust basis for housing policies in a new County Structure Plan, if at all possible without any major incursion into Hertfordshire's Green Belt.

The Campaign has been broadly based, involving not only Hertfordshire County Council, but also District and Borough Councils, private sector organisations including developers, house-builders and retailers (Boots the Chemists), and the voluntary sector represented by CPRE and the Civic Trust.

The campaign is seen as forming a vital part of meeting the requirements of PPG3, including the need for assessments to be made of previously used land - brownfield sites - before greenfield land may be released for housing.  Although the assessments in the form of Urban Capacity Studies are being carried out by consultants, it is essential that the concepts are understood and supported by the general public if such a change in new housing provision is to be accepted, and perhaps even welcomed.

The emphasis over the last twelve months has therefore been on exploring ways in which the housing stock within existing settlements can be increased.  This has been based on a series of technical "events" to consider how this might be done, while avoiding accusations of "town cramming".  These events are being held, with participation of civic societies, to clarify the thinking on a broad spread of issues, including many of the topics now being presented to a wider audience in the form of a public consultation "Roadshow".

The Roadshow, specially developed for the campaign by consultants, has now reached out to the general public at 30 locations throughout Hertfordshire.  The display showed non-site specific examples of various options, and visitors have been invited to express their views on issues such as:

·                Better use of space above shops

·                Conversion of larger properties - possibly with development in the grounds

·                Conversion of family houses to flats

·                Local redevelopment in a rundown part of town

·                Conversion of unused office blocks

·                Redevelopment of rundown garage blocks in residential areas

·                Redevelopment of town centre car parks

·                Better use of spaces between buildings

·                Redevelopment of underused allotments

·                Increasing densities

The preferences of the general public are now being evaluated, but early results show a strongly positive attitude towards many of the options, including the conversion of unused office blocks and flats above shops.  The least favoured choices seem to be converting family houses to flats, and building on unused allotments.

Meanwhile, consultants are now completing a "top-down" Urban Capacity Study across the whole of the county, which will be followed by more detailed studies by each District and Borough.  The results of these studies, and the findings of the Roadshow public consultation, will be included in a report to be published in late summer or early autumn.  This will then inform the political judgement on housing policies for Hertfordshire to be included in the "Deposit" draft of a new County Structure Plan expected later this year.

Once the current phase has been completed, the campaign will become increasingly focused on "quality of life" issues related to the urban environment which are so important in encouraging people to want to live in towns rather than in the countryside.  And of course these issues are central to the work of the Civic Trust, and to civic societies everywhere.

National Urban Forestry Unit

The National Urban Forestry Unit is a government sponsored charitable organisation promoting the planting and better care of trees and woods in towns http://www.nufu.org.uk/.

Urban forest is the collective term for all the individual trees in streets, gardens and parks as well as existing woodland, areas of natural regeneration and new planting. Trees in towns can help to improve the quality of life in a number of ways and make a major contribution to sustainable development. Greener towns and cities are also more attractive and so trees are an important aid to urban regeneration.  The UK's National Urban Forestry Unit, set up in 1995,  champions urban and community forestry to those tackling such issues as public health, leisure and recreation, land reclamation, built development, heritage and education. It works in partnership with fellow professionals in a wide range of organisations throughout the UK, including local authorities, the private sector and non-government organisations.

National Urban Forestry Unit
The Science Park
Stafford Road
WV10 9RT               Tel: (0) 1902 828600        Fax: +44 (0) 1902 828700

Wandering Green Belt Boundary


St Albans alerted us to “development by the back door” (mins 6 October 2000). A planning application for fencing a field backing on to an edge of town ribbon development had been submitted, and the intention was to later divide it into strips and sell to the home owners who would take it out of green Belt. Now we have a similar case.

At Potters Bar a mistake occurred in transferring the defined Green Belt from one mapping system to another. A boundary which should have been drawn along the bottom of a row of gardens was pushed some distance back when the plans were re-drafted in 1996. The alteration only came to light when a developer applied for permission to build on the land no longer included in the Green Belt.  How did he/she know the boundary had been moved? The Council (and Hertsmere’s then Head of Planning), claimed not to have realized the boundary move. (Previous building applications had been refused due to the designation of Green Belt.) When the change was pointed out the Council said it could not be corrected because it was in the deposit version of the plan, nobody had objected and the inspector had signed it.  The matter came before the borough’s Environment Committee who unanimously insisted on restoring the boundary to its original position because the move had not been referred to in the Local Plan text, and text takes precedence over the map.

So what was going on?  A complication now is that Watford Borough Council want to set up a park-and-ride scheme which, of necessity, must be located outside the borough.  One of the areas needs to be in Hertsmere but was not included in the latter’s Local plan so the inquiry review must be re-opened.  Will the Potters Bar developer take advantage of the inquiry to get the Green Belt boundary moved?                    

For PPG13 Annexe E:  Park and Ride in the Green Belt see link from our own website to:

It's www.antascivic.freeserve.co.uk

Chris Woodman

Yes, ANTAS now has its own website.

We've tried to pack it with information. You will find mug shots of all your Association’s officers which you can memorise before the next meeting to avoid embarrassment, also boring things like our Constitution as well as the full text of the last three ANTAS newsletters. There are links to every County and District Council in our area and to online versions of almost every single PPG. Once on our site, you are one click away from a large number of other national amenity organisations, the local police forces, and the growing number of manifestations of Central Government at regional level. And there is a News page which currently contains links to those press releases from the DETR over the past six months that we judge are the most interesting to ANTAS members.

But there is much more to do to make it a truly living website, and that is up to you, the members to make contributions. We want links to all your websites. We want you to send us a greater range of material for the News page. We want a more exhaustive list of other amenity organisations. Above all, we would like to run something akin to a message board, in which local goings-on can be reported and lively and timely discussions can take place on matters of interest to our Association. Right now, we don’t know how to run a message board (can anyone out there help us? – and remember we’re not paying an arm and a leg for software or hosting!)* but we guarantee that any e-mails we receive will be posted as quickly as possible where they may be generally read.

And our web address? Well, maybe it could be shorter, but it costs nothing, and your ANTAS committee really does try to give you Best Value for your minuscule subscriptions!

*  actually we’re not paying anything at all, Ed.