There is trouble in the air as Councillors are set to vote on the very controversial RBWM Local Plan setting out the future of our Borough. Find out what the issues are? Who’s saying what? Then take the poll and tell me what you think.
Please fill in the polls as they will help me represent you better
As I promised in my last blog, “Wisdom’s Blog 10 June 2017: Making Windsor Better“, here is my article on the controversial RBWM Local Plan. Below I set out my take on the issues and also, both sides of the argument, before letting you decide in 4 questions/polls. Please fill in the polls as they will help me represent you better.
If you’ve only got a minute or so, I start with a 60 second summary.
Stop. Think. Then let’s work together to make Windsor better for all, or in this case, let’s make the Royal Borough better for all.
60 Second Summary
- Legally, the Council needs a Local Plan to set out who can build what and where in the Borough between now and 2033
- Many residents groups, who should have been consulted by the Council, say that they have not been referred to and, these groups include many longstanding Conservative voters
- Local experts on these many residents led group, and also planning professionals, say that the Local Plan should be amended because it;
- Has many errors
- Does not make good use of land and, builds on inappropriate green belt land with a loss of services
- Has too many houses proposed compared to other local authorities
- Has few plans to deliver the extra roads, schools and, services needed by the 14,200 extra homes proposed
- Has insufficient provision for Employment
- Should go back a step and a better plan be produced working with them
- RBWM’s Conservative Council say the Local Plan should be accepted because;
- It’s a good plan
- They’ve consulted appropriately
- The amount of green belt land being developed is negligible
- We need housing
- The infrastructure will come later
- Let’s plough on
You decide: Poll questions 1 & 2 of 4
Tell me what you think about this once in a decade plan and, the deep divisions it is causing.
Just read my article and answer these 4 simple Poll Questions; 2 here and, 2 below
Scroll down to complete the important final two questions
It’s sure to be stormy so, make sure you get there early to make your voice heard
The Council are holding an Extraordinary (warning light) Council meeting at 7pm on Monday 19th June 2017 at the Town Hall in Maidenhead to move towards finalising the Borough Local Plan. Yet, the plan and attachments foist upon us and our children the divisive effects of building on green belt land, possibly inappropriate choices of land to develop and, the lack of infrastructure to support major developments.
When a Council is run by a major political party it usually indicates clearly which way party members should vote. It’s a case of follow the leader, and woe betide any dissent; ask Leo Walters and Geoff Hill who were sacked from paid posts.
But this time it’s gone one stage further and, not only is there open dissent from the Leader’s views and approach but, Charles Hollingsworth has even left the Conservative Party and joined the Independents.
It’s sure to be stormy so, make sure you get there early to make your voice heard.
So what is a Borough Local Plan?
According to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), a Local Plan should “set out the strategic priorities for development of an area and cover housing, commercial, public and private development, including transport infrastructure, along with protection for the local environment. They comprise a series of documents that should set out clear guidance on what development will and won’t be permitted in your area” and, it also sets out in map form, who can build what and where.
In short, it is the Bible for planning applications and major developments in our area for the next 20 years!
- If it’s not in the Local Plan, it ‘aint happening.
- If it’s in the local plan, get your planning applications in early becasue, it’s Christmas time for developers.
it is a big deal to get it right
If the RBWM Local Plan is flawed and set to cause problems for residents and, will mess up the look, the layout, the peace of the town, or the health of residents then, tough. However, because once things are built, we will be stuck with inappropriate developments not just for the next 20 years but, probably the next 50 years; not so much a piece of grit but, great boulders and carbuncles, blighting views, sight lines and local prosperity.
On the other hand, if it is an excellent plan, approved by people and businesses then, your town will prosper economically and socially and, will become a magnet for others; Hey your property values will probably increase and, you will love living here, no buts and, your children and grandchildren will even be able to live locally. Imagine that, lots of happy families and communities.
So, it is a big deal to get it right.
RBWM is so poorly regarded that it is on the government’s watch list
Timing. RBWM Local Plan is late. Very late. And it’s planning department has been left short handed and depleted for many years, arguably since the Conservative Council started cutting costs to reduce Council Tax and, behaving questionably.
In fact, according to officers, RBWM is so poorly regarded that it is on the government’s watch list and is being monitored at a time when the government has said it wants all plans in place by the end of 2017. That means, there is possibly a pressure to get something in ASAP. Indecent haste, some may say.
Being shorthanded and cutting costs, with a poor reputation amongst people in the planning world, at a time when planning staff are as rare as hen’s teeth, is not a good recipe for an excellent and publicly acclaimed plan.
In fact, the Plan being voted on on Monday is so unpopular with local planning experts and local groups that even true blue residents are saying “do not vote Tory at the 2019 Local Elections” and, are self organising across our various towns to challenge Council Leader Simon Dudley and his group.
Here are some of the related stories in the press locally – click the links
- Open letter urges council to postpone next Borough Local Plan consultation
- Residents urge council to postpone Borough Local Plan in second open letter
- Councillor fired for questioning green-belt plan
- Cllr Geoff Hill sacked from cabinet in reshuffle
- Charles Hollingsworth explains reasons for resignation from Conservative Party
There are alarming errors, inconsistencies and flaws in the wording of the documentation
The points below reflect just 11 of the many problems & concerns raised by local experts, residents’ led groups and, Borough citizens (your neighbours);
- The Council have therefore not considered all the most appropriate areas of land so, we will get development in the wrong places e.g. losing greenbelt plus two garden centres on the edge of Windsor
- The Council have not conduced a required greenbelt review
- They can not say they have left no stone unturned in their quest to uncover all possible sites for development
- As a result, developers could make speculative applications and then, if the Council say no, instigate a judicial review and probably win. The developer could escape paying for any infrastructure costs and, RBWM would also bear the legal costs! A double whammy, lose:lose situation for residents
- The Council are needlessly building too many houses, possibly through their JV company which might raise a conflict of interests.
- Green Belt land is, “absolutely sacrosanct” according to, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javed and 84% of the Borough is Greenbelt land.
- Despite having the option to build less, the Council have chosen to build a full quota of 14,200 houses including 6,000 in the Green Belt ignoring the option to protect the Green Belt and justifiably build fewer houses as other Council’s have done; councils such as Brighton & Hove, Watford, Hastings & Crawley, to name but a few.
- Green Belt policy was established in 1955 primarily to stop urban sprawl but it also protects the individual identity of communities and biodiversity, provides a valuable mental health resource and, encourages development on brownfield sites
- The loss of green belt will be permanent;
- Causing towns to merge and communities and identities to be permanently dilutes or lost (something frowned on in law)
- Resulting in a reduction of biodiversity and a loss of flora and fauna, some unique to this part of the world.
- The Council have failed to follow the proper process
- The Council are required by various laws, including the Localism Act, to consult with local groups including the local experts producing the Borough’s 11 Neighbourhood Plans (NP).
- The Council have not properly consulted local groups, NP groups or Parish Councils or even effectively included what comments they were allowed to make.
- The Affordable houses statements of 30% are flawed
- The expression is a misnomer as, what the Council calls affordable houses local people would not be able to afford
- Developers could state that this makes the development unviable and escape with just a contribution to Council coffers and no (un)affordable housing
- This is likely to cause the separation of family units and the deterioration of vibrant communities
- There are alarming errors, inconsistencies and flaws in the wording of the documentation, some of which will become akin to local laws.
- All Ascot sites in pre-application or advanced stages so will take place in first five years, rather than being phased, and so the Council will have to allow even more houses to build.
- In Maidenhead, as highlighted by the Inspector with the failed 2007 Plan, insufficient land has been identified for employment despite sites being available.
- In Windsor
- The Council has only identified one location that has been designated solely as an employment site. This seems implausible and is probably insufficient to promote a thriving local economy
- 50% of its Strategic Objectives would over-ride the Neighbourhood Plan so frustrating the intentions of the Big Society and Localism
- The Council have not made clear plans for the necessary infrastructure which will probably result in
- Traffic congestion, overcrowded roads and extended journey times
- An increase in air pollution which is already above World Health Organisation levels.
- Overcrowded schools with reduced sports facilities
- Insufficient health care (GPs and dentists etc..)
- Increased flooding risk
- Sewage and effluent overwhelming the already at capacity sewage treatment works at Ham Island on the Thames in Old Windsor
In Summary: AGAINST the current version of the RBWM Local Plan
- These able, big hearted experts and residents are saying that we should go back a stage and work together this time to include their valuable input as required by various regulations.
- It may slow down the process but, working together the Council and residents people will get the job done well, once for all (time).
- Result = A true and deep democracy in a harmonious symphony of professionalism, joy and hope, with everyone pulling in the same direction rather than a cacophony of chaos, destruction, sickness and trauma.
These are the points, in full, from the Council’s briefing notes;
- The Borough Local Plan (BLP) will shape the next two decades of growth and facilitate new homes and infrastructure which are being provided in the borough.
- Development, housing and infrastructure will take place over two decades – not all at the same time.
- Hundreds of millions of pounds will be invested into infrastructure projects.
- This plan will support affordable housing giving people a chance to live in their own home.
- 83% of the borough is currently green belt and 81.49% of the borough will remain green belt. We are protecting the borough from inappropriate development.
- In Ascot, Sunningdale and Sunninghill
- Development will be spread out over the next two decades.
- The plan supports the local economy and enables the provision of low cost housing to benefit all residents.
- Development in Ascot centre could also provide much needed community facilities.
- Infrastructure will be provided alongside development.
- In Maidenhead
- The town will be the main focus for new homes as it has excellent connections and will benefit from the arrival of the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) in 2019. There is very little previously developed (brownfield) land available in Ascot and Windsor.
- A large number of homes will be built over the next five years through the four joint venture sites.
- Maidenhead town centre will become an even more attractive place for everyone to live, work and enjoy including the redeveloped waterways.
- High quality design will enhance Maidenhead’s character and appearance.
- In Windsor
- Development in Windsor and Eton will complement the existing heritage and visitor attractions.
- The plan supports economic growth in parts of Windsor and enables the provision of low cost housing to benefit all residents.
- Infrastructure will be provided for Windsor
- And as for Infrastructure
- There is an infrastructure plan but, it is not meant to set out, at this point, each piece of infrastructure in detail.
- The finite detail will be set out alongside each planning application over the next two decades. [Trust me, trust me?]
In Short: FOR the RBWM Local Plan
- The Council are saying that they’ve done a good job and, consulted appropriately and,
- Off the record, they are saying that if we don’t vote for the plan, it is likely that the Government will appoint an external consultant to finish the job at a cost of around £2m and that the external consultant may inconsiderately chose to allow building even more than the 14,200 homes target, possibly in arbitrary locations i.e. with less protection of the Green Belt
What happens next?
Have a look at this video from the Department of Communities and Local Government
There are three possible outcomes and scenarios for the RBWM Local Plan;
- The plan forms part of local planning law
- The Council votes for the plan to go ahead which, then goes to the Inspector for review
- The Inspector then approves the Plan (with or without amendments, which might require consultation with local groups) and then,
- The Council would vote to adopt it and it forms part of local planning regulations
- It is argued that challenging applications could be submitted by speculative developers due to the lack of a green belt review, until 2033, which could succeed upon a Judicial Review?
- It is also likely that local groups and land owners will give evidence against the Local Plan to the Inspector which might lead to Outcome 2
- The plan is ultimately rejected by Inspector
- The Council votes for the plan which then goes to the Inspector for review
- The Inspector then rejects the plan
- A new or revised plan has to be produced either by
- The Council or
- An external consultant (appointed by the SoS for Communities and Local Government) at an extra cost of around £2mto do the work which would probably include the through Greenbelt Review that seems to have been missed
- It is argued that, during the period between now and say 2 years, challenging applications could be submitted by speculative developers due to no plan being in place which could succeed upon a Judicial Review?
- The plan is rejected by Council and,
- Work starts on a new or revised plan led by RBWM
- Who can consult and collaborate with local groups to achieve an amended and popular Local Plan
- This could take at least another year but include the missing Greenbelt Review
- RBWM would have to negotiate with the Inspector, possibly this time with the support of residents and local groups, to not appoint an external consultant
- Alternatively, it is possible that the Secretary of State may appoint an external consultant to do the work which would probably include the through Greenbelt Review that seems to have been missed
- It is argued that for the extra year, challenging applications could be submitted by speculative developers due to no plan being in place which could succeed upon a Judicial Review?
- Work starts on a new or revised plan led by RBWM
You decide: Poll questions 3 & 4 of 4
Here are the next two questions;
What can you do?
- The WWRA will shortly publish its own views on what you can do, I am merely setting out some of the major issues and asking your views.
- Remember, complete the 4 questions in the Polls at the top of the page and, tell me what you think.
Independent Councillor, Wisdom Da Costa, Clewer North
to inform and empower local residents
This post is part of Cllr Wisdom Da Costa’s regular series of Blogs to inform and empower local residents; as he promised in his election leaflet
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the West Windsor Residents Association (WWRA).