09:00AM, Friday 14 February 2020
A group formed to ‘reflect the needs and wishes of the community’ has been rejected in its bid to create a neighbourhood plan.
Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum (MNF) put itself forward to prepare the neighbourhood plan (NP) for seven wards of Maidenhead which are without a parish or town council.
But last week it announced that the Royal Borough had refused to give it designation to prepare the plan.
Chairman of the MNF, Matthew Shaw, said the neighbourhood plans are designed to counter the ‘top-down’ Borough Local Plans which allocate sites for the forecast housing need.
“It is government policy to allow local neighbourhoods to prepare their own local plans, which will cover much smaller areas, but will reflect the needs and wishes of the community,” he said.
“But the problem we have in Maidenhead is we have no parish council, we have no town council – there’s no organisation in existence that will prepare the neighbourhood plans.”
To create the plan, the neighbourhood forum was required to have at least 21 members – MNF has 59 – and it has to be reflective of the community it represents.
Matthew said the two main reasons the MNF’s application for designation to prepare the NP was refused are because the area of the plan is too big [about 53,000 people], and it does not adequately represent the community.
MNF objects to both points.
The concerns were raised in a letter from James Carpenter, the interim head of planning for the Royal Borough, dated Thursday, February 6.
It reads: “The submission document itself identifies the lack of diversity stating ‘most members are aged 60+ and 75 per cent are male’.”
It says it is ‘not desirable’ to designate ‘such a proportionally small and unrepresentative group to cover a substantial area’.
Matthew said: “We fully accept that the people who turn up to the meetings are predominantly older people but does that invalidate it?”
He added: “Our view is that you have to, in this day and age, interact with people online and we’ve been doing that very effectively.”
The forum has been carrying out online surveys which Matthew says has received hundreds of responses.
“If we have achieved the aim, which is to get a cross-section of opinions expressed, we should be recognised for doing that,” said Matthew.
Matthew said that ‘people are worried that the schemes that are being brought forward involve towers of 16 to 25 storeys’.
“I’m passionate about the public having a proper say and this is the best way,” he said.
“The Government provides a mechanism and we think the council are ignoring the wishes of the public by not designating this forum.”
Matthew said he would like them to decide whether MNF should appeal the decision or repurpose the forum into being a campaigning organisation.
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Lead Member for Planning and Maidenhead Cllr David Coppinger (Con, Bray) said: “I do believe in neighbourhood plans but I have to listen to my officers.”
He added: “Officers have made that decision after much, much consideration and given the complexity of Maidenhead it is critical that the group is totally representative of all the people who make up Maidenhead because unlike a parish council they are not elected.
“And that was the prime concern behind saying that it didn’t pass the basic test, and they’re not our rules, that’s what the Government laid down as the rules.”
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