26-home BCA planning application approved by councillors

Shay Bottomley

26-home BCA planning application approved by councillors

A controversial proposal to build 26 homes on greenbelt land at the Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) took one step closer to fruition last night.

Eight councillors voted to approve the officers’ recommendation to permit the outline application of the development on land at Honey Lane, with one abstention.

The permission to approve the access, scale and layout came after what can only be described as a tense evening for supporters and objectors at the Maidenhead Development Committee.

Councillors heard that the college was hoping to use the development to finance repairs to the Grade-I listed Hall Place building.

The development itself featured 20 four-bedroom homes and six two-bedroom homes, the latter being considered ‘social, affordable or immediate rent’ properties.

A representative from the college said it was an ‘immense privilege but also a huge responsibility’ to maintain Hall Place, which has the same listing as Windsor Castle and Bisham Abbey, and added that the ‘colossal costs’ of maintaining the building could take funding away from education purposes if not approved.

Objectors, including leader of the council Andrew Johnson (who was making representations as ward councillor in this instance), expressed ‘fundamental concerns’ over the planning application.

Cllr Johnson said the ‘very special circumstances’ to build on greenbelt land required additional scrutiny, and added the application fell short of protecting the ‘openness and rural character’ of greenbelt locations.

Concerns were also raised regarding the single-track Honey Lane, which Cllr Johnson described as ‘not an ideal transport entrance and access’, although the borough’s highways department had expressed no objections prior to the meeting.

He concluded: “I think it’s clear, for both myself and Cllr [Maureen] Hunt, that whilst broadly supportive of the overall aims of BCA, we remain unconvinced that this is the right application before members this evening.”

The result of the vote did not necessarily reflect the tone of debate, with many councillors saying that they were ‘torn’ on the application.

The word ‘undecided’ was used to close off many of the early speeches by councillors, whilst Cllr Joshua Reynolds (Lib Dem, Furze Platt) said he had ‘never received more emails on an application’.

Furthermore, Cllr Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham) said that the benefits ‘just, just outweigh the harm’ of the development.

Ultimately, after almost an hour of debate between councillors, Cllr Reynolds would second the motion put forward by Cllr Geoff Hill (tBF, Oldfield) to approve officers’ recommendation. The latter said he would normally attack a development on greenbelt and agricultural land ‘with all guns blazing’, but the ‘dire financial problems’ the college had suffered were an important consideration.

“The problem that I’ve got tonight is that there’s an education use in this building; it belongs to the college, which educates people, and it needs to keep going,” said Cllr Hill.

“What we’re really addressing is the revenue required to repair this asset [Hall Place], which is used as classrooms and offices all day long - without it, the college cannot function properly.”

Upon a vote, the motion passed with eight councillors voting for and Cllr Mandy Brar (Bisham and Cookham) choosing to abstain.

The appearance, landscaping and all other matters of the proposal are to be reserved for a later date.

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