Leafy villages in uproar over 'population rise'

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The Independent Online
IN THE last county left in England with a Conservative administration, Buckinghamshire, the big issue in a month which could determine the leadership of both the Labour and Conservative parties is neither European nor national.

Local Tory leaders have been provoked to something close to fury by claims from a private research firm that the pleasant and wealthy villages of the Chilterns and South Bucks will see the fastest rise in population in Britain by 2001.

The findings were 'amazing', said Bill Chapple, chairman of the county's planning committee. 'They have simply got it wrong. There is virtually nowhere for anyone to build.'

Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow yearn for population increases, but in the Home Counties the politics of population are different. Plans to widen the M25 and build yet more link roads to the motorway mean that all politicians are nervous about voters' response to the Green Belt becoming a tarmac-covered 'black belt'.

The cause of the council's outburst was an analysis of the 1991 census by CACI, a private research company, which claimed to show the flight from the cities to the country speeding up in the Nineties.

Liverpool, the central industrial belt of Scotland, Salford and inner London will see sharp falls in population, the researchers said. The new booming centres will be Buckinghamshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, with the Chiltern district expected to see

the largest growth in Britain

13.8 per cent by 2001.

Buckinghamshire County Council says the research is flawed. It believes the researchers made a simple mistake when they put five of Buckinghamshire's districts in their list of the top 10 centres of population growth.

The county's population is rising fast because it contains Milton Keynes, the council says; CACI seems to have got its results by sharing out the projected growth for Buckinghamshire as a whole, almost all of which will be in Milton Keynes, among districts such as Chiltern and South Bucks, which lie in areas of outstanding beauty where building is strictly controlled.

'We can find no justification for the figures,' said Mr Chapple. 'The area has an ageing population and we are expecting to see numbers fall in the next decade. People would be apoplectic if new building were allowed.'

A spokeswoman for CACI refused to discuss the company's methodology, saying that it was 'commercially confidential'. A drive round the Chilterns, however, suggests that Mr Chapple is probably right.

In the pretty town of Amersham, a new Tesco is still bitterly resented three years after it opened. Eric Corns, chairman of the Amersham Society, even condemned a local council officer for praising the town's amenities in a newspaper.

'He was saying how good the swimming pool and facilities were here,' said Mr Corns. 'Well, we don't necessarily want people to know that. This place if full enough without the council encouraging more people to come in.'

(Photograph omitted)