67-75 Sycamore Road: Decision Day Thursday

Chiltern District Council’s Planning Committee will meet at the Council Chamber, King George V House, King George V Road, Amersham HP6 5AW, on Thursday 28th April. It will consider then the application for redevelopment of the ex-Iceland to Cargo site at 67-75 Sycamore Road.

One of Chiltern Chamber’s strategic priorities is to protect and encourage the vitality and health of our high streets and the businesses on them.

Chiltern Chamber made two submissions to the Council about this scheme, out of more than 350 such letters from residents, businesses and other bodies that wrote – an unprecedented level of public interest. Only a handful were unequivocally in favour of the application.

Before Christmas, Chamber Chairman Vee Bharakda helped collect signatures and opinions outside the site, and we spoke to many local businesses.

The nub of concerns related to proposed “A1/A3” designation of the ground floor development in the planning application. A1 represents retail shops; A3 relates to restaurants and cafes.

In March the planning application was amended to ensure that approximately 50% of the ground floor retail space (a minimum of 370m2 and a minimum of 50% of the shopping frontage (15m) should be limited to A1 retail use only. The remaining 373 m2 would be for uses A1/A3. In theory, the whole of the ground floor space can be used for retail, with a maximum of 50% of the ground floor commercial space to be used as a restaurant.

Whilst a step in the right direction, this amendment did not allay our underlying concerns, reflected in our submissions:

  • Great concern at the prospect of the site being redeveloped at the cost of a significant chunk of retail space.
  • Almost equal concern that lack of a low-cost retail store would be a significant blow to less affluent residents.
  • Amersham’s almost unique situation among local towns, in not having a sizeable town centre supermarket adjoining a main car park. The space being proposed for this development represents the only location in the town where this could be the case.
  • Fear of many traders fear that removal of a significant chunk of retail space, and a food store in particular, will reduce numbers of visitors to the High Street, with a consequent effect on other businesses.

Significantly, we hear strong anecdotal evidence that the last point is now being borne out: some neighbouring traders report turnover down as much as 20% since the closure of Iceland. We hope that this point will be expressed and considered adequately at Thursday’s meeting.

Officers of Chiltern Chamber will be present at the Planning Committee meeting, and we encourage as many residents and others who wrote, to show a presence, too. It would be a mistake to allow the planners and Committee to ignore totally the weight of opinion that has been democratically expressed.

Sadly, it is likely that as regards this site, we are between a rock and a hard place – a rejection by the Planning Committee would probably result in an appeal, with the site remaining economically useless for an extended period. If approved, a long period of development would ensue, with no guarantee of an eventual commercial balance that would really benefit Amersham. It would be desirable to find an alternative site for low-cost retail – but where? Perhaps the process will inform future developments and decision making, though it is hard to be confident.