04:29PM, Thursday 04 March 2021
Maidenhead's regeneration reached another milestone this week as £500million plans to redevelop the Nicholsons Centre were approved by councillors.
At a Royal Borough planning panel last night (Wednesday), members unanimously agreed to approve hybrid proposals from developer Areli Real Estate, subject to a series of conditions.
Under plans, the Nicholsons Centre will be torn down and replaced with a new complex. Streets and zones will offer retail, offices, public realm and more than 650 mixed-use apartments.
Buildings are set to reach up to 25 storeys - raising concern amongst some objectors, who branded the development 'Maidhatten' and 'only fit for Spider-Man to swing through'.
There will be 1,319 car parking spaces, including 700 public spots in the new multi-storey car park, and 104 spaces for 364 residential units.
There will be 116 parking spaces for the 307 retirement living apartments.
Head of planning at the Royal Borough, Adrien Waite, was supportive of the plans and urged councillors to approve them.
"There will always be things that aren't to everyone's liking within a scheme, but there is a substantial amount that has gone into this," he said.
"It is a real opportunity to secure regeneration and positive investment in the town centre."
Mr Waite added that the proposals could create about 2,700 jobs, and said that the design of the 25-storey building, which is taller than the proposed Landing development nearby, has been 'improved' since an original application was submitted in July.
But public speaker Andrew Hill, opposing the plans, felt that the development would be better suited as the location for a movie plot.
"Councillors please, for goodness sake, just stop. Do not build Maidhatten, a dark, high-rise town only fit for Spider-Man to swing through," he said.
Mr Hill raised fears over the 25-storey building's safety, claiming that the fire service had inadequate resources should a fire break out.
He added that the structure is 'inconsistent with any democratically mandated plan, and thus the entire National Planning Policy Framework'.
Planning officers counter that 'the building has been subject to extensive revision' and was 'refined in order to provide a more slender design and harmonious profile.'
"Overall the height and design of the building is considered to be acceptable," officers added.
Referencing businesses, Mr Hill queried Areli's plans to cut more than 50 per cent of the existing retail floor space.
"Which 50 per cent of the shops are actually going?" he asked. "Are you really going to put your name to potentially destroying 50 per cent of retail jobs?"
Other concerns were centred around the development offering no affordable housing - however this will be subject to a later review.
Fellow objector Sarah Bowden, part of the Royal Borough Climate Emergency Coalition group, was worried that the development did not offer enough in the way of sustainability.
"There are many positive sustainability features cited in the application, but for a development of this size and impact, it does not go far enough," she said.
"In fact it results in an annual net increase of 7,309 tonnes of Co2, which is just over one per cent of our borough's annual emissions. And this does not even account for the carbon emissions resulting during demolition and construction."
Tracey Page, another objector, claimed that the loss of the Smokeys nightclub, in Nicholson Lane, would be detrimental to the town's young people as it is 'the only licensed late night entertainment venue left in Maidenhead'.
Speaking in favour of the application, member of the public Madeline Wallace said retail has been 'gravely impacted' by COVID-19 and that the application would offer people a shopping 'experience' which cannot be found online.
"The pandemic has shown the ease with which people can order items online, however the experience of entering a unique shop full of handmade items cannot be replicated online, and nor should it be," she said.
Ms Wallace added that flexible leases for retailers, proposed under the plans, would offer them 'more protection' in a post-lockdown world.
She added on the plans: "People disembarking at Maidenhead [train station] have no encouragement to walk into the town centre and are currently met with a car park.
"The Nicholson Quarter redevelopment will change this, and re-stitch lost connections through the town.
"Having lived in Maidenhead for 10 years, I have come to value what is on my doorstep and I would appreciate my town even more if Maidenhead offered more of what I need for my future.
"The plans open up so many possibilities; a place to live, do some work, and socialise."
Areli partner Rob Tincknell told councillors that the UK's town centre's are 'in crisis' and that Maidenhead has a chance to do something 'truly exciting'.
"Over 15 national retailers have left the town in the last 12 months. Income from the shopping centre has dropped by 80 per cent," he said.
"However, we have an opportunity to do something truly exciting.
"Nicholson Quarter will be a fully integrated, new, mixed-use place that not only accords with planning policy but will transform central Maidenhead, specifically addressing the market post-COVID.
"And by using our town centre land, not only do we help meet the borough's housing needs, but in turn help protect the spread into the greenbelt."
Mr Tincknell added that homes have been designed 'to support greater home working', with larger rooms and 'plenty of private open spaces'. They will also meet the 'very strictest fire safety standards', he said.
On issues surrounding loss of retail floor space, the Areli partner said that there will in fact be more shops than there are today, but they would be 'smaller' and 'focused on the local market'.
And addressing Ms Bowden's earlier concerns over sustainability, Mr Tincknell said: "Nicholson Quarter will be one of the most environmentally sustainable projects ever proposed in the borough."
More than 850 bicycle parking spaces will be provided within the scheme, together with improved bus stops.
At the end of the meeting, Councillor John Bowden (Con, Eton and Castle) proposed that his fellow councillors accept the application. This was seconded by Cllr David Cannon (Con, Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury).
Reacting to the news, leader of the Royal Borough, Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said following the meeting: “At a time when the future of our high streets and town centres is at the centre of the national debate around the economic recovery, I am proud that Maidenhead is leading the way in shaping that future by approving the UK’s first major town centre regeneration proposal following the coronavirus pandemic."
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