01:08PM, Tuesday 06 April 2021
Maidenhead's footfall is 'still very much down' but there are signs of a 'slight uptick' as the town gears up for its third reopening, a meeting heard.
Service lead for economic growth at the Windsor and Maidenhead council, Steph James, told councillors at Wednesday's Maidenhead Town Forum that she hoped footfall levels would begin to rise 'gradually' as restrictions are eased.
From Monday, non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen, while hospitality venues can serve people outdoors.
"We are pretty well rehearsed on reopening now, this will be the third," Ms James said at the meeting last week.
"The footfall in Maidenhead is still very much down compared to what it would normally be. But we are starting to see that slight uptick as things start to unlock.
"As we gradually go through the roadmap to reopening, we hope to see that footfall within the town centre start to return and hopefully as we get towards the end of the summer we will see more of a normal footfall level."
She added: "We are very much looking to that next step of the roadmap (April 12), where our businesses can start to reopen.
"We have been working across the council to make sure we have got a strong plan in place to support businesses reopening."
Ms James also announced that a total of 2,812 support grants had been given out to eligible businesses by the council during the pandemic so far, totalling £13.2million.
Maidenhead's vacancy rate - that is the amount of units lying empty - was at 17 per cent, she added, which represented a total of 48 units.
"Even though businesses are closing in the town centre, we are getting new businesses open up too," Ms James said.
She added that more local people are looking to run businesses and added that the council would be working with landlords as the country emerges from lockdown to help get more units occupied.
Later in the meeting, Councillor Gurch Singh (Lib Dem, St Mary's) expressed concern that an art mural created in West Street had been vandalised.
Ms James called this news 'sad' and reassured that the Windsor and Maidenhead council would be working to get it 'fully restored'.
"We did try and clean it off but we can't without damaging the original mural," she said.
"I am in touch with James Maddison [artist who created the mural in Queen Street] to see if the artist who originally did it is happy for him to restore it.
"He does not want to go in and repair it without permission from the original artist."
Also discussed at the meeting was an update on the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Plan (MNP).
A neighbourhood plan is a document that sets out planning policies for an area and helps guide where and how developments are built.
A group called the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum (MNF) put itself forward to prepare a neighbourhood plan for seven wards of Maidenhead which are without a parish or town council, but their request to prepare the plan was rejected in February 2020.
Wednesday's meeting heard that decisions now need to be made about what area the plan would cover as MNF members seek to make it an official planning weight.
Lead member for planning at the council, Cllr David Coppinger (Con, Bray), said: "There are some significant things to consider, one of which is should it be the whole of Maidenhead, or separate the inner town from the outer town?"
He added that he was 'supportive' of the concept of the plan and wanted it to be 'moving ahead'.
"If the group can get it right, I will be the first one to congratulate them," he said.
Also discussed at the meeting were the various regeneration schemes being built or planned across Maidenhead, and news that Maidenhead nightclub Smokeys had been 'offered space' within the Nicholsons Centre redevelopment.
There was also concern from Windsor councillors that major plans to redevelop a car and coach park in the town were announced at the Maidenhead Town Forum, rather than the Windsor equivalent.
Concerns have been raised after a man in Windsor was hit by human waste from an aeroplane whilst in his garden.