A ROW has broken out over plans to build more than 70 homes on a plot of land in Marlow town centre after developers outlined their plans last weekend.

A petition entitled ‘Save Portland Gardens’ was launched after it emerged Crest Nicholson had bought the large area behind the High Street to the west which contains 14 houses and a large expanse of trees.

the developer has laid out plans to build 72 one to five bedroom homes, which would see all but six of the existing properties demolished.

And while some Marlow residents have voiced support for the scheme and insisted the plot should be used for badly-needed homes and affordable housing, protestors against the plans the area should be converted into a public garden.

The mission statement for the Save Portland Gardens group states: "Developing the historic Portland Gardens site, built in the early 1900's, will rip the heart out of the town centre and remove the last undeveloped green space in the town.

"Portland Gardens should be restored and turned into a public garden for the entire community. This would enhance Marlow's attraction to visitors for generations to come and give long term enjoyment for the people of Marlow, and not just another expensive housing development to profit the very few.

"The issues of transport within the site, and the disruption and upheaval to the existing communities on and around the site are not being addressed.

"We feel Portland Gardens is worth far more to the community if sympathetically restored and enjoyed by all."

An online petition has attracted over 50 signatures so far, with protestors hopeful the campaign can gather steam before any planning application is made.

The opposition comes as the developer put plans on show to the public for the first time last weekend.

Campaigners are also critical of former landowner John Lewis Partnership for selling up the site to a housing company after it considered building a supermarket there.

However, resident Kerry Thackwell, one of the campign organisers, has declined to comment further at this stage.

Supporters of the development have rushed to its defence in the wake of the petition, with one claiming another area for public use would be "superfluous" for the town.

Resident and Marlow business owner Bernard Mulady told the MFP that as well as Marlow badly needing new housing, there are few feasible sites in town to build them.

Wycombe District Council’s recent Local Plan Consultation states that with flood risk areas and the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there is "little room for growth" in and around Marlow.

He said: "A leaflet campaign has been started in Marlow by an otherwise untraceable group with the above name, to convert the currently run down site, to a public garden. Portland Gardens have suffered years of indecision and neglect due to various abortive development schemes.

"The chance now exists to develop this area with much needed residential property at all cost levels. A further garden would be superfluous as the large (23 acres) Higginson Park is only some 100 yards away and is well used by both residents and visitors to the town.

He added: "Who do SPG propose will buy this site, fund the conversion, pay for subsequent maintenance and upkeep? Certainly, neither Marlow Town or Wycombe District Councils have the finances for such expenditure at this time.

"Marlow needs houses, Portland Gardens are zoned for houses and it is the right place to build them."

Business leaders and town societies have echoed the call for more housing, and for affordable homes for younger people in and around the town centre.

In their response to WDC’s Local Plan Consultation, Marlow Chamber of Commerce acknowledge the difficulty of finding land for housing, but insist new homes should be "types suitable for single people, couples and families."

And the Marlow Society, which campaigns for the preservation and sensitive development of the town, say the developer’s plans to include more than 30 per cent affordable homes on Portland Gardens is "welcome news".