The Chiltern common of Naphill, near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, is a beautiful expanse of natural woodland with many veteran trees. It is owned by the Dashwood Estate, and the Friends of Naphill Common keep a close eye on it.
I visited on 13 April with Philip and Trevor Hussey, who are twins, both professors and long-standing residents. Their parents met at the fair on the common and were married in 1920.
Gloria Leflaive, who has campaigned for the common for decades, joined us. They know the common intimately. Philip pointed out a patch of forget-me-nots which, unusually, had white flowers among them.
I wanted to check out a planning application to which I have objected on behalf of the Open Spaces Society.
The proposal is to pull down Heatherlands, a pleasant house next to the common, and replace it with three dwellings. This will mean a new access-way over the common.
Section 38 of the Commons Act 2006 states that one must get the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for certain works on common land. These include ‘works for the resurfacing of land’. That phrase is further defined: ‘works are for the resurfacing of land if they consist of the laying of concrete, tarmacadam, coated roadstone or similar material on the land (but not if they consist only of the repair of an existing surface of the land made of such material)’.
The Commons Act also gives members of the public the power to apply to the county court for an order to remove unlawful works.
It struck me that there were already a number of tracks on the common which ought to have had consent but it is probably too late to take action. The courts do not like matters to be left too long and the power in the Commons Act can only be used for works which have been erected since 28 June 2005 when the act was published (bizarre, I know).
However, I was told that the access-way in this photograph is fairly new (and it does not have section 38 consent) so local people will have to decide whether to do anything about it.
The older Chapel Lane track runs parallel with the north-east side of the common, across common land. It comes to an end just short of Heatherlands and there is a row of wooden posts to stop people from driving further (see map below).
The applicant for the Heatherlands development, Mrs B Burnett, has submitted a design and access statement which states that ‘the access to the site for plots 1 and 2 are taken from the existing access which serves Little Oaks [next door], and agreement is in place with the landowner for this access’. She does not mention that the access would be across common land.
The Open Spaces Society has pointed this out to Wycombe District Council and asked that, if consent is given (which the society hopes it is not) the council includes an advisory that consent may be required under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.
The residents fear that this will lead to suburbanisation of the common, interfere with walkers and set a precedent for further access-ways to be constructed across common land. This could even result in an extension of the Chapel Lane track south-east to join Downley Road at Pickup’s Pond so that there was a continuous track along the common. Already people are parking on the common to the south. It could so easily become a mess.
All power to those who are fighting this planning application and campaigning to protect this magnificent common.