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'Enough is enough': Councillor quits Conservative group as local plan is voted through to next stage

Grace Witherden and David Lee

Grace Witherden and David Lee

'Enough is enough': Councillor quits Conservative group as local plan is voted through to next stage

More than 200 residents attended the meeting.

The temperature was not the only thing that got tempers rising last night (Monday) as Royal Borough councillors voted 33-10 in favour of proceeding to the next stage of the Borough Local Plan (BLP)

Tensions boiled over as more than 200 residents squeezed into the Desborough Suite in Maidenhead Town Hall to watch councillors clash over the planning document — with Cllr Claire Stetton (Boyn Hill) announcing her resignation from the Conservative group to become an independent.

The BLP is a planning blueprint which will run retrospectively from 2013 to 2032 and unites development policy for a range of areas, including housing, retail, employment and leisure. Councillors were asked to vote the plan through to the next stage, known as Regulation 19.

The audience contained many frustrated residents who had signed a petition calling on councillors to postpone Regulation 19, which looks at the technical soundness of the document, and allow for further consultation. The petition has been signed more than 1,600 times.

Cllr Derek Wilson (Con, Oldfield), cabinet member for planning, presented the document to councillors. He told the council the plan could only move ‘forwards not backwards’ and said if the Royal Borough did not have a plan, the Department of Local Government and Communities would step in.

He said the plan retained 81.5 per cent of existing greenbelt in the borough, and currently people could not get houses.

He said: “I know that this may be unpopular for some of our residents but this is happening in every borough up and down the country as the population increases.

“We must do something to address the lack of provision.”

After going over his allocated five minutes to talk, the audience put pressure on Cllr Wilson to stop.

Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) attracted applause from the crowd when he spoke out about the lack of infrastructure in the plan and the six-week consultation period which happened over Christmas.

He said: “I appeal to you – stop it and stop it now.

“Engage with your residents, get involved with the action groups, build an infrastructure plan that supports our building plans, and consult fully on the proposals.”

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) spoke passionately about the need for affordable housing and said the local plan was a ‘glorious way’ to right the wrong. He said:  “The current situation in London and the South-east is quite absurd, particularly in the Royal Borough where the average house price is £633,000.

“If we don’t agree to this there will be no houses going forward in the pipeline on the scale we need to provide people like me and my generation the chance to buy somewhere.”

In a surprise move, Cllr Derek Sharp, (Con, Furze Platt) broke ranks to speak out against the plan and said the council needed to ‘revisit the mechanics’.

He said: “We were elected to serve our residents — the residents who live here and voted us in office. We were not elected to serve persons who might want to live here in the future at the expense of those who already do.”

At the height of the meeting, Cllr Stretton said ‘enough is enough’ and resigned to become an independent, blaming council leader Cllr Simon Dudley’s ‘autocratic style’ for her decision.

She said: “Cllr Dudley has stated publicly it was a free vote, but he also told residents the cabinet must vote collectively, supporting his position presumably. He also made it quite clear which way he expects them to vote.

“We have seen colleagues who have taken an opposing view to the leader, in what should be a confidential and safe voting environment, be shouted at and dismissed from their cabinet positions.

“I can no longer support what has been going on since Cllr Dudley took over the leadership 13 months ago, nor am I prepared to any longer.

“I therefore say enough is enough. This has to stop and it is with deep regret I’m forced to resign from the Conservative Group.”

Cllr Eileen Quick (Con, Clewer East) was booed by the audience when she dismissed their views and said they were in the minority of residents in the borough — despite 27 parish councils and community groups signing open letters to the leader urging the council to postpone the plan.

She said: “People don’t go into local politics for personal wishes of power.

“It’s great that there are so many residents here this evening, it is good when people wish to engage.

“Unfortunately you have to accept that you are possibly quite a small minority of residents in this borough.”

Cllr Ashgar Majeed (Con, Oldfield) spoke out against the plan and called it a ‘developer's charter’.

He said: “Our residents are not against building, not against affordable housing, not against young members like Cllr Ross [McWilliams] getting their foot on the property ladder. They just want a BLP which will complement the RBWM and keep the character of our towns and villages. Let us not dismember this character from the towns and villages we know and love”

Cllr MJ Saunders was one of the last councillors to rattle the audience — and his fellow councillors.

He said: “A lot of our neighbouring councils believe that we should be taking more of their housing and thus us exceeding 100 per cent of our need.

“Apparently Cllr Werner believes these are nice people who we can have jolly nice chats with.

“What planet is he living on?”

Cllr Simon Werner demanded an apology and urged the councillor to stop the personal attacks.

At 10pm, a vote was taken and councillors voted 33-10 in favour of the BLP proceeding to the next stage.

Councillors Malcolm Beer (Ind, Old Windsor)  Paul Brimacombe (Con, Cox Green)  Wisom Da Costa (Ind, Clewer North), Charles Hollingsworth (Ind, Pinkneys Green), Ashgar Majeed (Con, Furze Platt), Derek Sharp (Con, Furze Platt), Julian Sharpe (Con, Sunninghill and South Ascot), Claire Stretton (Ind, Boyn Hill), Leo Walters (Con, Bray) and Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) voted against the plan proceeding to the next stage.

Cllr Adam Smith has asked the Advertiser to clarify that Cllr Wilson's statement that 81.5 per cent of the greenbelt will be retained is based on the borough being 83 per cent greenbelt. This means 1.5 per cent will be lost, rather than 18.5 per cent. We are happy to clarify this – and have reported this fact many times.

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  • Maidenhead used to be a nice place to live.

    08:08, 21 June 2017

    The roads are congested . The town is dead on its feet. Much of the charm the town once had has been erased. It only leaves the river to be built on and the council will have completed the death of a town that was once loved. Why don't the council understand that many of the properties sold are to people moving from London for the "cheap" prices Maidenhead offers. (Just ask an estate agent) What does the council think this will do to its carbon footprint and air quality ? What does the council think this will do to school placements? What does the council think this will do to road congestion? The title of Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead commands more respect for its residents.

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