MARLOW residents urged council planners to protect the "jewel in the crown" of the district at a meeting to discuss the town’s future.

Wycombe District Council hosted an evening workshop at the Shelley Theatre, Court Garden, as part of its consultation into forming its Local Plan until 2031.

The council must comply with government rules to meet growth in housing and business, meaning room must be found to build up to 700 extra houses a year in the district.

Marlow is surrounded by the protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the north and flood plain to the south, making it hard to find areas to build new homes.

Only 90 houses have been built in Marlow over the last six years, representing three per cent of the district’s housing need.

But the council’s plans have identified the town as a key business site given its strong connections to the Thames Valley, with a possible new 10 hectare business park for Westhorpe Park.

Head of Planning and Sustainability Penelope Tolliitt said: "We are talking about a huge challenge to pass on to the next generation, that’s why we’re calling it the big challenge plan.

"We need to make sure we take the right decisions so we are proud to pass the town on. Marlow is a constrained town from a building point of view, so we need to balance the constraints with the options available to us."

At last night’s workshop-style meeting, residents had the chance to sit around tables with WDC staff and discuss their hopes and fears for Marlow’s future.

Marlovians were asked to write anonymous feedback about the legacy they want the Local Plan to create.

Most responses centred on retaining Marlow’s character, open spaces and picturesque setting, with one town residents calling it the "jewel in the crown" of the whole district.

With green belt land lying to the south of Marlow, planners are asking whether a review of the protected land should be undertaken to consider building houses on it.

This drew a mixed reaction, with some residents open to using the open spaces near Bourne End for development and others keen to see it protected.

A proposal to build a 10-hectare business park at Westhorpe Park near the Marlow bypass came under fire, with many concerned it would hamper the mooted country park in the Little Marlow gravel pits.

Issues raised at the meeting included the need for more affordable housing, the importance of retaining open spaces, better public transport and the possibility of higher density housing to maximise space.

Some residents called for the underutilised Globe Park business centre to be turned into housing But with Marlow identified as a key business asset, planner said they were keen to keep it for business use alongside the Thames Estate and Marlow International to prevent Marlow simply becoming a ‘dormitory town’.

With last month’s devastating floods still fresh in the memory, WDC staff were quick to reassure worried Marlovians that measures would be taken to avoid building in the flood plain.

Tony Shannon, trustee of Riley Park, said any development would need to consider Marlow’s narrow residential streets, some of which are already overloaded.

Former WDC planning chairman Derek Done threw doubt on the consultation process, asking how residents could trust that any agreed policy would not be overturned in future.

He gave the example of the Marlow link road, which remained planning policy for well over a decade before the decision was taken recently to dispense with the idea.

Neil Marshall, WDC planning chairman and Marlow councillor, said if a Local Plan policy was not set the council’s control over future building projects would be lost.

He said: "We have got problems in terms of accommodating growth, and we need to recognise them.

"If we do not, and we fail to meet our needs then developers will win out and be able to go ahead on appeal with whatever they like."