THE controversial blueprint that earmarks multiple sites for thousands of homes has been adopted by the ruling Conservative group despite criticism it is “fatally flawed”.
The plan makes provision to deliver at least 14,240 homes, or 712 houses a year, to meet projected housing need as the Royal Borough’s population and economy grows throughout the years.
The meeting was triggered after government-appointed planning inspector Louise Philips found the plan to be “sound” after a rigorous examination period and public hearings.
Within the plan, one per cent of green belt sites have been earmarked for development in order to meet the housing need. The borough will protect 82 per cent of its green belt sites, according to Cllr David Coppinger (Con: Bray), lead member for planning.
Cllr Coppinger said it was “the most important paper” he has brought to the council, adding the borough is “desperate” for affordable family housing.
He warned if the BLP is not adopted, government would ‘force’ the council to adopt it as all local authorities must have an updated plan in place.
Meanwhile, council leader Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams) said it would be “foolish” to reject the local plan as the green belt sites could become a “free for all” for developers if it is not adopted.
However, he admitted the BLP is ‘not perfect’.
Adopting the plan does not mean development will start straight away for the earmarked sites as all sites are subject to individual planning applications that will be determined by a planning panel.
During the meeting, a rowdy public gallery of residents and campaigners from the Maidenhead Great Park can be heard shouting “shame on you,” “this is a farce,” and “stop lying” as councillors discussed the plan.
A “stop the meeting” chant enveloped where it prompted the mayor, Cllr John Story (Con: Ascot & Sunninghill), to adjourn the meeting for a few minutes.
In the plan, the Maidenhead golf course, a 132-acre green space, is earmarked for over 2,000 homes, 40 per cent of which are affordable, a new school, GP surgery, and a park.
Campaigners have been vehemently advocating for the golf course to be turned into a great park so Maidenhead could keep its ‘last green lung’ and for brownfield sites to be developed on instead.
Cllr Coppinger said: “Given that the inspector has agreed on the housing requirement and given that we all know we need family homes, especially affordable ones, where are we going to build them?
“It has to be green belt. Where are there green belt sites that are within walking distance from a station? Where are there green belt sites near a town, especially a town that is currently being reborn with many new exciting shops coming?
“Please tell me?”
Meanwhile, Cllr Johnson said: “We do have enough brownfield land to accommodate all the housing growth we need without obliterating our employment space.
“I am not in the business of going around gobbling up every single employment site in the borough just to put new homes on. We need economic growth as well.”
Campaigners also say development on this green space is not needed as the housing need for the borough has more than halved since its original calculation in 2012 and vehicles that will come with the family homes will exacerbate the air pollution, exceeding the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
Cllr Geoff Hill (TBF: Oldfield) said: “RBWM has declared a climate emergency. It makes no sense to build on green belt, particularly 2600 homes on Maidenhead Golf Club and Harvest Hill Rd, destroying two stunning natural habitats. The result will be massive CO2 emissions, chaos on our roads, during and after construction.
“We will lose the last green lung in Maidenhead, the last major carbon sink, a major water retention zone, pollutant adsorption system, and major oxygen factory.
“We’ll be replacing this with the persistent release of greenhouse gases and pollutants from 1000s of car journeys and homes each day.”
Cllr Coppinger previously said it was “totally incorrect” to say the borough’s housing projection has halved, adding the new calculation was based on “too short a period” and “not representative” and, therefore, does not justify lowering the housing numbers.
Doubts on whether the affordable homes could actually be considered affordable to a young family were expressed and a question was asked to Cllr Coppinger how much affordable homes cost. Cllr Coppinger replied, “I am not an estate agent”.
The leader of the opposing Liberal Democrats, Cllr Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) said: “At the end of the day, we all know what the borough local plan is really about, it’s about money.
“Over the years, council debt has rocketed upwards to around £215m. Coincidently, slightly weirdly, the sale of the golf course will raise pretty much that sum and I think that is why there is such anger amongst the residents and councillors on this side [Lib Dems & Independents].
“For years now we’ve been ignored where we have raised all these issues; flooding, biodiversity, sustainability, all of these arguments. If you [the Tories] have listened, we would not have had a flawed plan now, we would have an excellent plan.”
All 22 Conservative councillor voted for adoption of the BLP while 17 of the opposing Independents and Lib Dems voted against.
Cllrs Catherine Del Campo (Lib Dem: Furze Platt) and Helen Price (TBF: Clewer & Dedworth East) were present virtually but were unable to vote.