Today at 1pm, the Strategic Sites Committee of Buckinghamshire County Council met to discuss the Marlow Film Studio proposal, which has been a very hotly debated issue since the proposals were first announced.
In short, after a 4 hour meeting the Committee voted to defer the decision for a maximum of 5 months. Voting was very close – an initial motion to REJECT the proposal was split, and the chairmans’s casting vote led to the vote on deferrign the decision.
The proposed site is on Green Belt, and the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy as per the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is “to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open” .
“Very special circumstances” are required to build on Green Belt, and the NPPF states these circumstances “will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.”
Thus the film studio proposal needed to demonstrate that the benefits of the studio outweigh the negative impact of losing this greenbelt space.
The meeting was streamed live on the council’s website, enabling us, and anyone else to follow proceedings. (It can now be watched in full on this link)
Below is a brief summary of the meeting’s content. The whole meeting was long, and very detailed – this is just a very top level overview to give a gist.
The main meeting commenced with John Fannon – the Council’s Planning consultant. He outlined the proposals – with maps, plans and images of proposed buildings – and the scale of them.
He considered the positive and negative impacts of the project, and summarised that in his opinion, greenbelt harms would NOT be outweighed by commercial benefits, so he recommended to REJECT the plan.
He also updated the Committee on various recent objections submitted by groups and organisations.
At the end of the meeting, the Committee would vote on whether to accept this recomendation to REJECT the plans.
Various public speakers were all given 3 minutes to make representations. The 3 minute limit was stricly enforced, with some speakers cut off by the chairman at exactly 3 minutes. Councillors were given the chance to question the public speakers, to get clarification as needed.
Those who spoke in opposition to the proposals included Cookham and Little Marlow parish council, Joy Morrisey MP , Cllr Carol Heap for Marlow Ward, Cllr Alex Collingwood’s (Bucks Cllr for Marlow) and Richard Sherwin of “Save Marlow’s Greenbelt”
Topics were various and numerous, but a few indicative headline areas of concern voiced included:
- Impact on wildlife and biodiversity
- Visual Impact
- Impact on traffic in the whole area, and extra traffic making it more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians
- The actual state of the site right now is irrelevant, it is Greenbelt, designed to prevent coalescence of communities
- The land is “not just scrubland”, there are plans to develop it into part of the Little Marlow Country Park
- The size of the site is 89 Wembley Stadiums
- Too many uncertainties – is it needed, why here, what actual benefits will it bring?
We then heard from supporters of the scheme, being 3 local workers in the film industry, whose points included
- There is a shortage of proper studios – industry is growing and their is a need for this
- Lack of training facilities
- Many relevant skilled workers already live locally
- London and the surrounding area is a very popular place for film crews to work
Robert Laycock – head of the proposed studio, laid out the case for building the studio, stating it is of “generational consequence” in its importance. The council committeee members then asked many questions of him and the studio proposal team, of which there were 5 present. This part of the meeting took up a large amount of time, as you might expect – with much questioning.
At 4.20pm the meeting moved to general debate among the councillors. There was overall praise for quality of both the proposals and objections, in terms of comprehensiveness. Each councillor in turn outlined their general views. Some councillors proposed defering a decision, because there are other complexities that need to be considered and the outcome of some issues is not yet known.
At around 4.45, matters were put to a vote:
Motion to Accept the Planning Officer’s proposal to REJECT the planning proposal:
5 in favour , 5 against. The chairman used his casting vote to go against the motion – having already stated a preference to defer a decision. So the motion was not passed.
Motion to DEFER the decision , with a back stop of 5 months by which a decision must be made:
5 in favour, 5 against. The chairman used his casting vote in favour, so the motion was passed.
So we now have a maximum of 5 months to wait for a final decision