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Virtual council approves changes to planning panels

Virtual council approves changes to planning panels

Changes to planning panels were approved by full council as it met virtually for the first time since lockdown on Tuesday night.

Councillors discussed a report which recommended the Royal Borough replace the Windsor and Maidenhead development panels with one panel which would sit with nine councillors.

The changes were introduced so the council can ‘move forward’ with virtual planning panels during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other changes include only ward councillors being able to call in an application.

Cllr Coppinger (Con, Bray), lead member for planning, said pre-lockdown the council put emergency powers in place to deal with planning applications but these end in June and the council needed to ‘move forward’.

He said: “No one, no councillor, no parish, no resident group has raised an issue with this process at all.”

He said the new changes will be reviewed in December and any material change would see a review take place sooner.

He said he increased the number of members on the panel from six to nine following feedback from councillors.

Cllr Josh Reynolds (Lib Dem, Furze Platt) proposed an amendment which would see both panels kept and the changes reviewed in August instead of December but this was voted against.

He said the proposals had 'widespread backlash' from the public and parish councils and would 'abolish the independence between Windsor and Maidenhead'. 

"The public believe this is being done to avoid proper scrutiny, the parish councils believe this is being done to avoid proper scrutiny and so do many councillors."

Cllr Wisdom Da Costa (West Windsor Residents Association, Clewer and Dedworth West) said the changes would create an ‘unsustainable’ and ‘unmanageable’ workload for councillors and said that without local knowledge, ‘you cannot make a good decision’.

But Phil Haseler, (Con, Cox Green), who would be chairman of the new panel, said he found the ‘hype being stirred up over a lack of local knowledge’ unjustified.

“It’s an insult to members of the panel suggesting they would not make sound decisions because they do not live in that ward,” he added.

Leaders of the opposition, Cllr Lynne Jones (Ind, Old Windsor) and Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) were both against the report.

Cllr Jones she could see ‘no evidence’ why both planning panels could not meet virtually.

She said: “The lack of legislation forced us into this situation and I’ve heard no evidence that we couldn’t run two planning panels going forward.”

Cllr Werner added: “We really don’t know what is going to happen next, there might be a second wave, it’s all very worrying. So we’ll be left with this decision beyond December. That is our real concern, we will end up extending the December deadline and it will end up being the new normal.”

Summing up, Cllr Coppinger said: “Everyone tells me the software is fine, no problems. Tonight I think four or five people have dropped out for a short period of time.

“If this happened at a planning meeting they would not be allowed to vote.”

He said this is because any decisions made at planning meetings can be subject to legal action.

He added these plans were designed as a ‘first step’ and not an ‘endgame’.

The motion was approved 23-16.

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