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War of words erupts between Cox Green Says No and council leader over Claires Court plans

A war of words erupted late last week after the council leader tweeted his support for Claires Court’s bid to move its campuses into one site in Cox Green.

Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside) wrote that he ‘fully supported’ the independent school’s application, in contrast to the two Conservative councillors who represent Cox Green.

Cllrs Ross McWilliams and Phil Haseler – who has led the Cox Green Says No campaign opposing the plans – have both voiced opposition to the idea.

The school wants to merge its girls’ site, in College Avenue, and its senior boys’ campus, in Ray Mill Road East, onto a new development at the junior boys’ site off Cannon Lane, where housing is also planned.

The two campuses would then be redeveloped into homes.

It was confirmed this week that the plans will be heard at 7pm in the Desborough Theatre at Maidenhead Town Hall on Wednesday, August 28.

“It is clear to me that the future of @clairescourt planning application will determine the viability of this school (and ultimately its very existence),” Cllr Dudley tweeted on Friday.

“I fully support the planning application and wish this fantastic school all the best for the future.”

But his support drew the ire of Cox Green Says No, which was formed by residents upset at the plan’s impact on the greenbelt and traffic.

Its Twitter account tweeted Cllr Dudley, quoting him from November 2017 in which he seemed sceptical about the plan’s benefits.

“What has changed? Definitely NOT the traffic or the greenbelt,” the account said.

Cllr Dudley replied: “It’s Very Special Circumstances around the future of this school.

“A material new factor is the requirement from the DfE [Department for Education] for co-location of pupils in a co-ed school. Plus the fundamental viability. It’s a very hard decision but ultimately the school [has more than] 1,000 pupils. Facts emerge.”

“My opinion is different to that of the leader and that is entirely a matter for him,” Cllr Haseler said. He added that regardless of what the Tory leader thought, the panel would make its own mind up on the application.

Cllr Haseler is a member of the Maidenhead Area Development Management Panel and plans to speak at the meeting in August but will excuse himself from the vote because he is tied to the Cox Green Says No campaign.

“I am disappointed he has come out publicly about his support for Claries Court,” Cllr Haseler said of his leader.

“That is entirely a matter for him.

“It has come across as insensitive to the Cox Green community.

“I am not sure if the leader of the council should actually air a view. But it is a matter for him to decide on and justify.”

Cllr Dudley did not comment when asked on Wednesday morning.

Hugh Wilding, Claires Court principal, said: “We welcome Cllr Dudley’s support for the future of Claires Court. The final decision on these proposals will be made by the Development Management Panel, and we look forward to their deliberations in due course.”

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