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Inspector asks how council is expected to resolve 'tension' of Borough Local Plan during examination

The second stage of hearings into the Examination of the Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Local Plan (BLP) began this week.

Louise Phillips, the inspector appointed by the secretary of state to conduct the examination into the legal compliance and soundness of the BLP 2013-2033, began proceedings on Monday over Zoom.

The first stage of hearings, held over three days in June 2018, concerned the BLP submitted in January 2018.

Following these initial hearings Ms Phillips asked for further work to be done to the plan – resulting in a ‘proposed changes version’ which is now under examination.

Speaking in the opening remarks on Monday Councillor David Coppinger (Con, Bray), cabinet member for planning, environmental services and Maidenhead, said the proposed changes plan is the version of the BLP that the local planning authority intends to adopt.

“The council is grateful for the opportunity to address and overcome the shortcomings in the soundness of the submitted plan,” he said.

He said he recognised ‘it has taken much longer than anticipated to reach these stage two hearings’ but that the ‘council is committed to securing as soon as possible a sound and legally-compliant Borough Local Plan’.

On Tuesday items on the examination agenda included green space, air quality and character.

Ms Phillips said she was keen to know whether the council felt the proposals for Maidenhead would retain its character or change it ‘in some way’.

Ian Motuel, principal policy planner at the Royal Borough said development would ‘significantly improve’ access to green space in Maidenhead.

He said site allocations in the BLP ‘all require green and blue infrastructure, in many cases, generous amounts’ and that ‘the loss of open space will only be permitted in limited circumstances’.

“There are also three green infrastructure allocations in the plan, all of which are in Maidenhead,” he added.

On the subject of capacity and character, Mr Motuel said ‘the scale of growth in the proposed changes plan has been robustly tested’.

“The scale of development within Maidenhead will require an increase in the amount of higher density flatted development, especially within the town centre,” he explained.

“The tall buildings strategy identifies that Maidenhead town centre offers an opportunity for tall buildings in several of its character areas and makes recommendations on maximum heights in order to protect character.”

He added: “The council is confident that the increased density will not have a detrimental effect on the character of the town.”

In response Peter Lerner, who is representing 13 local organisations during the stage two hearings, touched on the poor air quality in the Royal Borough’s town centres.

“It’s the council’s responsibility as part of the plan to ensure that air quality is improved, to ensure that traffic congestion is minimised,” he said.

“If something is bad already, why try and make it worse?”

Ms Phillips observed ‘that there’s obviously a tension between having to accommodate this very large amount of housing that’s required in a district that has many constraints’.

She listed these as flood risk, the desire to protect the greenbelt, concerns surrounding high-rise buildings and wanting to preserve the character of the area.

She asked: “What would be the alternative to putting everything into these town centres, the alternative we’ve heard is greenbelt and I know that you’re also concerned about protecting the greenbelt, so how does the council resolve that tension?”

Peter Lerner agreed that there is a tension but that he does not have a solution.

He added: “I don’t have the answer. I would love to sit here and rewrite the BLP but I don’t have an answer, but I think there is something in recognising the constraints.”

He said he did not believe the public had been asked the right questions by the council to develop a strategy.

“I don’t think there should be no development, the place is crying out for development, but there has to be a compromise,” he added.

Watch the second stage of hearings on the Royal Borough's YouTube channel here.

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