09:50AM, Wednesday 20 May 2020
Concerns have been raised over plans to scrap the council’s existing planning panels and replace them with one new panel which would oversee applications from Windsor and Maidenhead.
The council says the planning process needs to be streamlined so panels can meet virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Maidenhead Development Management Panel and the Windsor Development Management Panel both meet once a month and have 11 councillors.
The proposed Royal Borough Development Management Panel would be chaired by Cllr Phil Haseler (Con, Cox Green) and also meet once a month.
Membership would be made up of six councillors – four Conservative, one Lib Dem and one independent.
But Richard Endacott, chairman of the West Windsor Residents Association, and who has been leading the campaign for a Windsor Town Council said the merger will leave Windsor residents feeling ‘disenfranchised’.
He said: “Local knowledge is essential when debating planning applications, this move disenfranchise local people in local decision making processes and threatens unwanted development in areas which panel members have little or no knowledge.
“Centralising power and taking it away from local people to a central body is not welcome.”
Other changes discussed in the report include councillors only being able to ‘call-in’ applications to the panel if they are in their own ward and limiting the number of speakers to ensure ‘focused contributions’.
Planning officers would also be given more power to decide on minor applications to speed up the process ‘enabling businesses in particular to recover and plan for the future’.
Cllr Haseler said the changes are necessary so panels can get ‘back up and running’ during the pandemic.
He said: “A reduced size panel is very important to allow the panel to run smoothly and make robust decisions.
“If we tried to manage that [the current size] on Zoom it would be unmanageable, we would be there until 3am.“
He said he understood concerns over lost local knowledge but said people should have ‘confidence’ in the panel to make objective decisions ‘no matter where they are from’.
He added: “We can overcome a lack of local knowledge by site visits, reading the planning report in detail, if we’ve got queries and questions we all write to the planning officer for more information.”
Any changes approved by full council on Tuesday would be reviewed in December.
Police were called to the River Thames between Cookham and Bourne End yesterday at about 3pm, to reports that a teenage boy had entered the water but hadn’t been seen to leave.