12:32PM, Thursday 18 November 2021
The open space in Ray Mill Road East, where the 80 homes are earmarked
Contentious plans to build 80 new homes on open space in Maidenhead advanced at a meeting last night, despite concerns from nearby residents that the proposals would 'pose a risk to life'.
The Maidenhead Development Management Committee met at Maidenhead Town Hall on Wednesday to discuss CALA Homes' plans for land south of Ray Mill Road East, which were coming before the panel for the third time.
A busy public gallery convened to watch councillors cast an eye over the latest proposals, which - like the two applications before it - were recommended by planning officers for refusal due to concerns over flood risk.
Officers also raised concerns over the lack of signed legal agreements with regards to affordable housing; open space and the potential impact on the Burnham Beeches conservation area.
But after a lengthy debate, members voted on a motion put forward by panel member Councillor Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green), that the application be deferred to the council's head of planning - subject to referral to the Secretary of State - to approve the application.
This also includes the completion of legal agreements and to 'secure the refusal matters' as listed in the planning officer's report, which involves the confirmation of affordable housing provision.
Presenting the plans to councillors at the start of the meeting, the Royal Borough's head of planning Adrian Waite initially praised CALA for its affordable housing quota within the development.
A total of 47.5 per cent of affordable homes are proposed - which includes 18 shared ownership properties and 20 affordable rent accommodation units.
Mr Waite said that this percentage figure was 'substantially above' the normal required policy for a development of this nature.
However, he then moved on to the concerns that officer have with the plans - with flood risk at the top of the list.
"Officers consider that the flood risk is a substantial issue and are therefore recommending it for refusal on that basis," Mr Waite said, adding that the Environment Agency had also objected to the plans on these grounds.
The meeting then moved on to the public speakers, with Ray Mill Road East resident Debbie Mccullough the first to have her say, adding she was speaking on behalf of fellow residents in the road.
"We strongly object to the development because we believe that it is fundamentally dangerous, posing a risk to life and the existing dwellings due to flood risk," she said.
"For more than four years we have lived under the cloud of this development which significantly increases the risk to all of our homes and families.
"One in 100 year events can no longer be called [this] - they are now random occurrences."
Ms Mccullough added that she has experienced a previous flood in her own home - which is located on the site entrance to the proposed development.
She added: "This is the third time the same application has been submitted and the third time officers have recommended refusal on the grounds of safety.
"The residents are at a loss to understand why we are even here debating this again.
"Many experts have recommended refusal - if the planning committee were to approve it [tonight] I would ask why you know better than these experts.
"We can only assume that our lives as residents have become secondary to the financial benefits of pushing this application through."
Representing CALA Homes, John Richards, a planning director for the company, told councillors of the development's proposed benefits.
"We believe the application represents an unparalleled opportunity to deliver much-needed new housing within an established, sustainable, urban location within Maidenhead, away from the greenbelt," he said.
Mr Richards added that the proposals would enhance open space and include sustainability measures, such as solar panels on roofs, waste water heat recovery systems, and electric vehicle charging points.
He added that CALA was '100 per cent committed' to signing the necessary legal agreements.
On flood risk, Mr Richards said that the plans have passed a sequential test of flood risk, despite it being located within a flood zone area.
"There were no other reasonable sites at a lower risk of flooding that would accommodate the proposed development," he said.
"In the unlikely event of an extreme flood, all proposed dwellings will remain 100 per cent dry at all times.
"We think that the benefits significantly outweigh any impact in relation to flood risk."
Mr Richards added that CALA was prepared to do 'what it can' to improve flood preparedness.
Councillors sitting on the panel were divided on the plans, with Cllr McWilliams saying that the challenge was to 'make a decision on an item where two experts disagree with each other'.
The Cox Green councillor added that any formal decision would be left with the Secretary of State, before moving the aforementioned motion, which was later seconded by Cllr Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham).
Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) questioned later in the meeting whether Cllr McWilliams' employment with consultancy company BECG (Built Environment Communications Group) should have been declared as a major interest due to the firm working with CALA Homes in communications.
The council's monitoring officer, Emma Duncan, stepped in to confirm that it is 'up to the member themselves to decide whether they have an interest in relation to the meeting'.
Ms Duncan added: "Cllr McWilliams has looked and made that assessment himself, which is what we suggest that members do. So I would suggest that the meeting carries on in the normal way."
On the 80-home plan debate itself, Cllr Geoffrey Hill (The Borough First, Oldfield) said: "This [application] has been with us several times, once withdrawn, and we are back here again.
"First off, it is an excellent scheme, there is no doubt about that. [But] we do have flooding hanging over us this evening.
"The difficulty is that climate change has shot up the agenda."
Not swayed by CALA Homes' speech, Cllr Joshua Reynolds (Lib Dem, Furze Platt) felt that the issue of flooding was too much and put forward a motion to refuse the application, which was seconded by Cllr Hill.
Both motions were then voted on at the end of the meeting, with each one resulting in a tie of four votes for and against, with Cllr Leo Walters (Con, Bray) abstaining on both occasions.
After Cllr Reynold's motion fell through, the casting vote for Cllr McWilliam's motion rested with meeting chairman Cllr Phil Haseler (Con, Cox Green), who voted for this.