09:08AM, Wednesday 15 March 2017
Maidenhead is changing. Not only is the long-awaited regeneration finally starting to show real progress, in the form of the waterways and Chapel Arches development, but the town also faces huge pressures in accommodating thousands of new homes.
Over Christmas the public was consulted on the Borough Local Plan, the blueprint for the town up until 2032.
It’s fair to say a lot of people were frustrated by both the timing of the consultation and the difficulty of commenting on it through the council’s website.
The next draft of the plan will be published next month and the public will once again be asked for their opinion.
For the next five weeks, the Advertiser has teamed up with the independent group behind the Maidenhead & Cox Green Neighbourhood Plan – which has put forward its own proposals for the town – to highlight concerns with the Borough Local Plan so people are better able to make informed comments at the consultation on the draft, before it goes to a planning inspector and is adopted later this year.
The Neighbourhood Plan group submitted its own response to the consultation on the draft Borough Local Plan in January, which highlighted five major concerns:
'Axing limit will open floodgate for high-rise flats'
The first of our series of reports before the publication of the next draft of the Borough Local Plan looks at the issue of building heights.
Maidenhead has a wide variety of building heights across the town but the majority of homes are two or three storeys.
While flats make up 24 per cent of the current housing stock, roughly half of new planning consents granted in recent years have been for flats – typically up to five or six storeys.
The Neighbourhood Plan Group says the replacement of large houses with gardens by blocks of flats is accelerating this trend and, over time, risks fundamentally changing the ‘leafy’ character of the wider town.
In the town centre, office blocks typically dictate the skyline. The existing 14-15 storey Berkshire House is being converted to apartments and will soon be overtaken by The Landing (pictured below), built on the town centre ‘triangle’ site bounded by King Street, Queen Street and Broadway.
More developments are planned for the town centre, some of which will be delivered through the council’s proposed Joint Venture partnership with a developer. Most will be mixed use development, combining homes, offices and retail uses.
The existing Area Action Plan for the town centre sets design and quality standards for all new tall buildings and recommended tall buildings be ‘clustered’ in the area near the railway station and south of Bad Godesberg Way.
It established a general presumption against allowing new buildings with more than 12 storeys anywhere.
But the recent draft Borough Local Plan proposes removing the location and height limitations.
The Neighbourhood Plan group has objected to this on the grounds it is both undesirable and unnecessary.
A spokesman said: “Such a relaxation of policy would open the floodgates for developers to build tower blocks of flats – anywhere – helping to hit the housing targets, but only at the expense of further skewing the mix of Maidenhead’s housing stock and adversely impacting the town’s character.”
The Neighbourhood Plan group supports the need to limit greenbelt intrusion for new housing and also welcomes more homes in the town centre to help trade and regeneration. But the group has called on the council for the height limits to be retained, to avoid the town centre and neighbouring areas being dominated by high-rise blocks.
A town centre capacity study in 2015 commissioned by the council concluded that nearly 4,000 housing units could potentially be accommodated, with average building heights of no more than nine storeys, without breaching the high rules.
The group spokesman added: “The current draft Borough Local Plan proposes about 2,500 housing units in the town centre, suggesting no compelling need to abandon the very sensible and appropriate constraints on tall buildings.”
How the plans all fit together
The Maidenhead & Cox Green Neighbourhood Plan, once finalised and adopted, will sit between the Area Action Plan for the town centre and the emerging RBWM-wide Borough Local Plan. It will have equal weight in planning decisions (and appeals).
Having a Neighbourhood Plan in place for Maidenhead is important, because of the major expansion being proposed for the town – nearly 10,000 new homes: about a 45 per cent increase – until 2033.
Additional planning policies, tailored specifically for Maidenhead, will influence planning decisions for years to come and will help shape the way the town evolves.
Many readers will be familiar with the work of the group, which held a public display of its plans at the Friends of Maidenhead unit in the Nicholsons Centre last year.
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