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Outcry over private 'developer briefing' ahead of Claires Court Cox Green planning meeting

Update - Tuesday, August 20: The Liberal Democrat councillors will now attend tonight's briefing after being told Cox Green Says No will have more than the usual three minutes to make their case opposing the plans.

Update - Friday, August 16: Cllr Haseler has now said he is satisfied opponents to the plans will not be left at a disadvantage by the briefing.

Fears over councillors getting briefed about a major planning application in Cox Green have been raised with the Royal Borough’s managing director.

Three Liberal Democrat councillors have written to Duncan Sharkey voicing concerns about a private briefing by ‘developers’

involved in Claires Court’s bid to build a large campus off Cannon Lane.

Plans for the site include bringing its existing senior boys and girls’ campuses onto the land, which is in the greenbelt, 157 new houses and sports facilities. They are detailed in separate planning applications.

Residents bitterly opposed to the development due to greenbelt and traffic concerns have formed the Cox Green Says No campaign group to fight the plans.

The presentation to members of the Maidenhead Area Development Management Panel is due to take place on Tuesday, August 20, eight days before they decide on whether to permit the plans.

It is normal for councillors to be briefed by Royal Borough officers on plans they will make a decision on but rare for developers to also do so.

Cllr Reynolds was unsure whether Claires Court, Berkeley Homes – which will build the houses, if permission is granted – or agent PRP Planning would give the briefing.

The council’s cabinet member for planning, Cllr David Coppinger (Con, Bray), has insisted the briefing is rare but used for major planning applications such as this.

An open letter from Cllrs Joshua Reynolds, John Baldwin and Mandy Brar to Mr Sharkey said: “As Liberal Democrats, as councillors and as residents we strongly feel it is undemocratic for the council to be conducting meetings of public interest in private.

“Should the objectors, after an outcome injurious to their point of view, hold up this meeting as evidence of undue and biased influence how could we, as participants, ever persuade them that we had not predetermined our votes before they had an opportunity to present their case?

“If this briefing is necessary, then it must be held in public so full scrutiny can take place.”

He said Lib Dems would boycott the briefing without assurances it will be held in public.

But Cllr Coppinger said developer briefings are ‘quite normal for major applications… that we allow the developer, or in this case the school, to present on what they wish to achieve’.

He said this happened for a Legoland application and the Heatherwood Hospital plans.

“It is done where it is large and complex,” he said, adding that a legal officer sits in on the meeting and the developer would be stopped if they tried to pitch to members. The usual briefing by council officers will also take place.

Cllr Reynolds said he still wanted the briefing in public. Cllrs Geoff Hill and Helen Taylor (TBF, Oldfield), who both sit on the panel, also want it to be held in public.

Cllr Phil Haseler (Con, Cox Green), who spearheaded Cox Green Says No and sits on the panel, said he was ‘confused’ about why the meeting is necessary, asked if opponents can also brief councillors and said he looked forward to challenging the application.

The panel will meet on Wednesday, August 28 at 7pm in Maidenhead Town Hall to consider the plans.

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