PLANS have emerged for a huge housing development in Marlow town centre, with designs going on show to the public today and tomorrow.

Portland Gardens, which lies behind the High Street to the west, could be transformed into 73 one to five bedroom homes.

The site has recently been sold to developer Crest Nicholson after being owned for over a decade by the John Lewis Partnership, which were believed to be considering building a supermarket on the plot.

And the house builder is putting forward its vision for Portland Gardens at a special public consultation event at the development site today and tomorrow.

Nick Kilby, spokesman for Crest Nicholson, said: "We know that Marlow is a very special place to live. We want to make sure that we maintain the character of such a unique place.

"That is why these will not be ‘off the peg’ homes that could be seen anywhere around the country. We hope to use local materials and reflect the local design characteristics that make Marlow such a wonderful place."

"We will end up with a development that truly looks like it belongs here and only serves to enhance the beauty of the area."

Portland Gardens is heavily populated with trees, with the developer insisting it will keep as many as possible to retain the natural beauty of the area.

The land, which is currently accessed by a narrow passageway from the High Street, will be linked with Malthouse Way should the proposals get the go ahead.

A number of properties on the site have been rented for years, and the small terrace of six homes, known as Portland Villas would to be retained but completely renovated and modernised.

All the remaining homes, which Crest Nicholson says are of a "poor standard" will be demolished.

Of the 73 homes outlined in the plans, 25 are set aside for affordable housing, in line with Wycombe District Council’s requirements for new developments.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Marlow Society, which campaigns for the preservation and sensitive development of the town.

Society member Geoff Wood said: "The Marlow Society has not yet had the opportunity to study these proposals in detail but we will certainly be doing so.

"We are delighted that this important site in the centre of our town is finally to be put to good use. It has been derelict for far too long and we have for some time been pressing the owners, then the John Lewis Partnership, to take action.

"We all know that more homes are needed in Marlow - indeed under the new Local Plan they must be provided. This site is well placed for residential development and we understand that there will be a good proportion of 'affordable' homes which is welcome news."

However, Mr Wood added that the society will look carefully at the density and design quality of the housing, as well as studying the parking and traffic impact such a major development could have on the town centre.

As well as cautious optimism towards the scheme, it has also drawn an angry reaction, with a leaflet campaign and posters posted around town opposing the plans.

The protestors behind the "Save Portland Gardens" campaign have not yet been established by the MFP.

However, the literature states: "Portland Gardens should be restored and turned into a public garden for the people of Marlow and its many visitors to enhance the town centre for future generations."

The exhibition will be held on site at Portland Gardens today from 4pm until 8pm and tomorrow from 10am until 2pm.

The full plans will be on show, with the development team on hand to answer questions and collect feedback.

Crest Nicholson says it expects to submit a planning application in late May, subject to feedback from Marlow residents.