09:44AM, Sunday 23 January 2022
As someone who lives in Maidenhead, do you feel represented? Do you feel that RBWM can hear your voice? Or that they could if you wanted them to?
A commonly heard refrain is ‘they don’t listen to us, there’s no point saying anything, they just do whatever they want’.
However, if you were a councillor, how would you find out about what Maidonians want? If there are seven wards and about 70,000 residents, with two councillors per ward, then each councillor has to represent the views of about 5,000 people.
But how can they possibly do that? They can knock on doors or use social media or maybe read emails from residents. They can talk to people when out and about. But whichever way they do it, their contact base will be a tiny proportion of their constituents.
Furthermore, each councillor is whipped by their own party to some extent.
Let’s suppose ,for argument’s sake, that the majority of the 10,000 Cox Green residents asked our two councillors to vote against building on the golf course; would it even make any difference? Once elected to represent a particular party, many councillors are more loyal to the party than the residents for the bigger issues, which is to some extent understandable, particularly when they want to follow policy, please the leader, assume cabinet positions and not rock the boat.
People in Bray have a voice, for example: Bray Parish Council. Cookham and Cox Green likewise. But Maidenhead has no town council and RBWM has no appetite to create one.
Being made to listen to and act on residents’ thoughts would, in some quarters, go down as well as a Downing Street party in lockdown.
Yet the town needs representation because, according to the much anticipated and still-to-be-approved Borough Local Plan, two-thirds of the new homes in RBWM are going to be in Maidenhead.
The town is going to have 40 per cent more people in the next 10 years.
That kind of growth will inevitably bring issues that residents need to be able to bring to light.
RBWM will say they have a town forum for Maidenhead, but most attendees are councillors and officers. Topics are also filtered in advance, to avoid certain issues being raised. Perhaps it’s no surprise that so few residents attend.
I read that Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum, which is trying to get ‘designation’ to create a Neighbourhood Plan for the town, is being resisted by the RBWM planning department. I also read that RBWM is considering a mobile phone app, to improve communication between the borough and residents. That sounds helpful, but if it’s designed by the borough, what are the chances that it will also actually give Maidenhead a voice?
So what about a Maidenhead Residents’ Association? This could be entirely separate from RBWM. A resident-led, independent, non-party-political body which actively researches local opinions on the issues people care about, and presents questions and proposals based on those soundings.
This would be complementary to the (mostly) good work that councillors do. It could even reduce their workload and they could (hopefully) have constructive feedback meetings with local people in their wards.
Joe Public could use the association to table their question and see if other people agree before presenting this collective point of view to RBWM.
This town, faced with seismic growth rates, needs a voice. Can we make it happen? It’ll need wiser heads than mine, that’s for sure. If you think it’s a good idea, a small number of like-minded folk would be happy to hear your thoughts using a newly launched email as a start point for a possible Maidenhead Residents Association using firstname.lastname@example.org Let’s get the ball rolling.
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