Council agrees to split development panels for Windsor and Maidenhead

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

The council has decided to go back to a system of two separate development panels coving Maidenhead and Windsor separately.

Pre-COVID there had been two separate panels – but in May last year, the council established a single panel in light of lockdown restrictions, to ‘ensure the smooth running of virtual meetings.’

This was extended in December 2020 given the on-going restrictions. Now that the temporary legislation allowing for virtual meetings has expired, the council has revisited the issue.

Officers recommended establishing two Development Management Committees covering northern and southern wards.

These would be made up of nine councillors each and would meet on a monthly basis.

The advantage of this, according to the report, is that two committees would create greater local accountability for councillors and residents.

A disadvantage is that two committees ‘increases risk of inconsistent decision-making’ and ‘creates an additional burden on resources.’

One of the key factors for consideration was the possibility that different panels could have different interpretation of planning policy that might make ‘unsound’ decisions.

Councillor Jon Davey (WWRA, Clewer and Dedworth West) said that this was ‘offensive’ and argued that a single panel also has potential problems.

“One panel increases the risk of a panel being manipulated,” he said.

Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill), lead member for finance, agreed that panel members understood the ‘quasi-judicial nature’ of the process and were not driven by the public view.

However, he alone was against the splitting of the panel into two separate ones moving forward.

“Over the past year I have changed my view, and converted to the concept of a single panel,” he said.

He said that the single panel ‘comfortably managed’ the number of applications it had to consider.

Cllr Hilton added that there was ‘no evidence’ that the single panel was coming up with different outcomes than the separate panels would have made.

“We’re dealing with perception, and to some extent, emotion,” he said.

He added that there was ‘no business case’ and ‘no democratic basis’ for the proposal to return to two panels.

“There is nothing of substance in this paper that would change my view,” he said.

However, other councillor universally welcomed the return to two panels.

Cllr Cannon said that the council is tasked with listening to communities – and that residents expressed the wish to return to two panels.

He added that the council had promised to go back to two panels when it could and thus, should do so.

Prior to the meeting, a cross-party working group set up to consider the matter decided that a single committee covering the whole Borough ‘should not be established on a permanent basis.’

The principal concern was that it would not allow for local residents to hold the decision makers accountable.

The group considered it important that there is ‘sufficient knowledge of local context and issues’ for the different areas of the Borough, represented by the membership of the committee.

They took the view that a single committee would take decisions further away from local people affected by them.

The motion to change to two panels was passed 28 votes for and one against.

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