Borough Local Plan: Maidonians of the future will need more than just flats to live in

As the council works on the final draft of its borough-wide local plan, the Advertiser is running a series of articles raising issues that need to be addressed before the plan becomes 'set in stone'. We have developed the articles with the independent group who produced the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Plan. This week's article considers the need for a clear understanding of the mix of housing types Maidenhead needs for the future.

Staff reporter

Staff reporter

Borough Local Plan: Maidonians of the future will need more than just flats to live in

Shoppenhangers Road, where substantial family homes have been replaced by flats and apartments

The Borough Local Plan refers to the need for an ‘appropriate’ mix of homes. It also indicates a Strategic Planning Document will be published on the matter – at some future stage.

The Maidenhead and Cox Green Neighbourhood Plan Group (MNP) regard this statement as inadequate and say more meaningful policies are needed.

The group says there is too high a proportion of flats in the number of residential planning permissions applied for and granted in Maidenhead.

The 2011 census indicated 24 per cent of homes in Maidenhead were flats and apartments – already ahead of the national average of 19 per cent.

Since 2011 it is understood flats have made up 40 per cent of residential planning permissions granted.

“So there is an ongoing imbalance in our housing stock with the risk of an oversupply of flats, ” says the MNP Group.

“Everyone is aware of the ‘Shoppenhangers effect’, where substantial houses are demolished and replaced by apartment blocks, changing the whole character of a neighbourhood.

“In addition to demolition, there is a trend towards back garden grabbing for development gain.

“This process appears to be positively supported in the Borough Local Plan (BLP). However, it is important such proposals outside the town centre should deliver houses in character with the locality – not more flats.”

Within the town centre there are major schemes of flats – Chapel Arches, The Landing, Stafferton Park and the Magnet Leisure Centre site.

There will be more to come in the West Street and York Road Opportunity Areas.

The recent town centre capacity study identified the potential for more than 2,400 flats in this central area.

“The previously adopted Area Action Plan for the town centre called for a sustainable mix and choice of home types, but if you drive up the numbers it becomes necessary to resort to more and more flats,” says the group.

On the fringe of the town centre there is evidence of more of a mix of housing types. Boulters Meadow has a variety of styles and sizes built around a core of apartment blocks.

The Strategic Housing Market Analysis (SHMA) has identified the desired mix of house type and size.

The key drivers in market demand are the size of a family and ‘life stage’.

While flats may be suitable for single people, young couples and retirees, they are not right for families with young or teenage children.

“Families need private amenity space and a sense of community that is rarely offered by developments of flats,” says the group.

“If Maidenhead’s housing stock consists of too many flats, there will be a need for families to move away to find suitable family housing.

“The current planning emphasis is on delivering ‘dwelling units’. The over provision of flats is a route to achieving planning targets.

“Flats need less space and are cheaper to build. And there is a trend towards smaller and smaller living spaces.

“The refurbishment of Berkshire House will invigorate a long term architectural eyesore, but many of the apartments are smaller than the national minimum space standards.

“Every month planning permission is granted for another block of undersized flats.

“These minimum standards should be applied and enforced if we are not to acquire a substandard stock of residential accommodation. If the Borough does not enforce space standards, the developers will not volunteer to apply them.

“Understandably, developers seek to maximise profit. They are not concerned with the long-term suitability of the housing stock.”

According to the MNP team the UK now builds the smallest homes in Western Europe, and the average living space of new build homes has reduced by about 40 per cent since World War Two. Small homes with lack of amenity space are argued to contribute to social and health problems in the future.

“So Maidenhead needs quality, not just quantity, when it comes to delivering homes. This applies as much to social housing as it does to the open market,” says the group.

“Many people do not wish to or more probably cannot afford to buy. It is important there are clear policies to get the correct balance between the open, rental, assisted and affordable markets.

“Maidenhead needs a comprehensive mix of housing types.

“Even within the town centre there should be a policy to introduce a variety of housing rather than unrelenting blocks of flats.”

The group sees as positive the news Desborough and Newlands schools might relocate to a purpose-built campus on the site of Maidenhead Golf Course.

“Of course, their two existing sites will then be up for development and offer an opportunity for residential housing in the style of Cranbrook Drive, for example. Surely, they will not be flats...”

The group says many current planning decisions are driven by Government imposed targets but questions if they achievable or even realistic.

The group says: “We are currently drifting in an unknown direction driven by the ambition of developers, the whims of the market and the lack of any targets to redress the oversupply of flats.

“We need a clearly defined series of planning policy guidelines which will give direction to the delivery of a suitable housing stock for Maidenhead – with a preference for family homes.

“With such an ambitious level of future housing development, the character of our town is set for enormous change. To make life bearable for residents and the town workable for businesses and residents alike, there must be a similarly ambitious infrastructure plan – but where is it?”

Editor's note: This series of articles has been attacked by some Royal Borough councillors because they have been attributed to the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Plan team, rather than particular individuals.

This has been done at the request of the MNP team who have worked on the project collaboratively and take collective responsibility for the articles, which represent their views as a group.

Membership of the group can be found on the MNP website

Readers should ask why councillors have chosen to attack the format and authors of the articles rather than address the very serious concerns they raise about the shortcomings of the Borough Local Plan and the grave consequences this could have for the future of the town if not addressed.

Such a reaction serves only to underline the purpose and importance of publishing the articles in the first place but gives little confidence the Royal Borough will pay any attention to the issues highlighted.

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  • blackieoreilly

    18:18, 04 April 2017

    Have you seen the planning application to convert an office building on an industrial park on Clivemont Rd into 70-something 30-40 square metre residential units? What a waste of space! Greedy property developers trying to shove flats into every corner of this town whether we like it or not.



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