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Borough Local Plan: 'Meeting housing targets at any price is to plan for failure'

Staff reporter

Staff reporter

Borough Local Plan: 'Meeting housing targets at any price is to plan for failure'

Providing enough amenity space for leisure and sporting activity is going to be vital for the wellbeing of Maidenhead's increased population.

As the council works on the final draft of its borough-wide local plan the Advertiser is running a series of articles highlighting concerns that need to be addressed before it becomes ‘set in stone’. We have teamed up with the independent group which produced the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Plan, a detailed study of what the town needs and can sustain. With the council proposing 10,000 new homes in and around Maidenhead and a 40 per cent increase in population, this week we look at the need for space – both for the homes themselves and in the surrounding area for the benefit of people living in them.

It is a fact more housing is needed in the South-east. The problem is where and how to find the space for it.

The Royal Borough is required by the Government to meet its share, which is for about 14,000 new homes up to 2033.

The council has decided 10,000 of these (about 70 per cent) should be in and around Maidenhead.

But there are severe consequences to this. There is simply not enough land available to avoid building thousands of flats in the town centre and houses on important green spaces within Maidenhead and in the greenbelt immediately outside.

This is likely to lead to a population increase of more than 40 per cent in Maidenhead, with a loss of amenity and green space.

A spokesman for the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) group said: “This is a borough-wide plan and it’s hard to see how this is in the interests of the people of Maidenhead.”

The size of homes in England has shrunk to the point where we now build the smallest new homes in Europe.

In 2011 the average size homes were: England – 76sqm; Ireland – 87.7sqm (15 per cent bigger); Holland – 115.5sqm (53 per cent bigger); Denmark – 137sqm (80 per cent bigger).

A report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) called the ‘Case for Space’ found the average new home in England has only 92 per cent of the ‘recommended’ minimum habitable space.

The MNP proposed policy on space would adopt RIBA standards for all proposed new developments. Future planning applications would also be required to show on the plans the floor area of each room and the overall area of each floor.

But things are not looking promising in Maidenhead.

A recent application for a large development in Boyn Valley Road failed to meet most of the RIBA space standards, as well as permitting windows from one home to overlook the bedroom windows of another.

“Lack of space creates all sorts of social and health problems and can cause tensions in the household and with neighbours,” said the MNP spokesman.

“Children in overcrowded homes tend to be less successful at school and suffer more health problems, adding to the costs of education and healthcare.

“We also need parks and open spaces for recreation and sporting activities. This is important for all ages, helping physical and mental health – as a species, we are not well adapted to staying inside in front of a screen!”

The MNP team says by national standards, Maidenhead already has a shortfall of green space, particularly in the town centre.

“With significant amounts of space close to the town centre allocated for housing, we need to ensure it is balanced by easily accessible and high quality green areas,” said the spokesman.

“The occasional tree planted in acres of paving and surrounded by glass facades, beloved of architects’ urban plans (think Sainsbury’s Plaza), isn’t enough.”

“Most people would like to be able to walk to a nearby green space – and even better if that walk is pleasant in itself, rather than having to cross or walk next to a busy road.

“Although temporarily restricted for the waterways project, The Green Way is an excellent example, connecting Braywick to North Town moor and beyond.”

The MNP team says developments provide new opportunities as well as demands – for example, the copses on Maidenhead Golf Course could be joined to form a tranquil off-road route and a haven for wildlife.

And likewise the West Street Opportunity Area could include an east-west cycle route to avoid the dual carriageway.

“Will families trying to reach the new leisure centre in Braywick Park be holding up traffic or running the gauntlet to cross the A308, or could there be a safe crossing such as an underpass or footbridge?,” he said.

A key theme to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework is sustainable development – ensuring future generations retain a good a quality of life.

The MNP spokesman added: “This is about a lot more than how close you are to the railway station. Demanding housing targets, and severe penalties to local authorities which don’t meet them, have skewed the debate and tend to encourage high-density undersized flats and houses with inadequate space, off-road parking, infrastructure and leisure facilities.

“That’s not sustainable development, which needs to think wider than ‘how many units can I get on this site’, and plan for facilities close to hand and easy to reach.”

He concluded: “Meeting housing targets at any price is to plan for failure.”

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