10:22AM, Tuesday 25 April 2017
There’s a lot said about the effects of absolute power. But one of the most worrying aspects of an unassailable majority is it creates the delusion of infallibility – and the consequences of that are serious, not just for local democracy but for the everyday lives of Maidonians.
Limited opposition in the council chamber at RBWM and a leadership that will tolerate no internal dissent – can you believe the Conservative group has a chief whip? –- creates a blinkered belief you don’t have to listen to anyone else.
The council has become an echo chamber of validation where contrary opinions are either easy to dismiss or discouraged from ever being voiced.
If the town hall existed in an isolated bubble this might not matter too much. But it doesn’t. And the decisions made there affect us all – now and for years to come.
This makes RBWM’s willful deafness to concerns about the borough local plan (BLP) – its blueprint for development up to 2032 – all the more alarming.
There is a growing chorus of discontent with both the plan itself and how the whole process has been handled.
People feel their genuine concerns about matters that affect them directly are simply being ignored. The impact of the BLP cannot be overstated.
It proposes 10,000 extra homes in the borough, 70 per cent of them in Maidenhead itself.
Maidonians are concerned about where this estimated extra 15,000 people will live.
But also, in the absence of any meaningful infrastructure plan, where they will park their cars, go to the doctor, where their children will go to school and how our roads will cope with all the extra traffic.
The implications on the quality of life for everyone are enormous. But rather than engage with the concerns, the council has sought to undermine, sideline and now silence its critics.
Our series of articles by the Maidenhead and Cox Green neighbourhood plan group were roundly condemned by the council for raising just these concerns about the BLP.
Now its chairman – Cllr Philip Love – has ‘resigned’, though I understand he was given little choice by the council leadership.
And this just a few days after he was unceremoniously dropped from the Maidenhead planning panel.
Echoes of the treatment dished out to Cllr Leo Walters for voicing concern about the amount of development in the greenbelt?
Meanwhile, other neighbourhood plan groups, which have worked hard to help shape a sustainable future for their areas, also complain of being ignored.
Silencing, marginalising and ignoring the very people you are supposed to listen to cannot be good for local democracy.
Following the appointment of developer Countryside as the joint venture partner for the town centre regeneration, this issue is now more urgent than ever.
Before I get the usual bleating about political bias, let me stress this has nothing to do with party politics.
The Advertiser is strictly impartial (in fact it’s been described to me numerous times in the past as a ‘blue rag’).
This is all about accountability. The leadership needs to stop steamrollering over its critics and start listening.
It seems that at RBWM all councillors are equal, but some councillors are more equal than others. Where then, does that leave the public?
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