10:57AM, Wednesday 08 December 2021
Opposition councillors have lambasted the administration for its ‘chaotic and incompetent’ series of date changes for an important council meeting.
The extraordinary meeting was to agree the Borough Local Plan (BLP) which is currently being reviewed by independent inspectors.
The BLP is a scheme extending up to the year 2032 which unites development policy for housing, retail, employment and leisure.
Included is a plan to develop Maidenhead Golf Club’s course into 2,000 homes – a matter which hundreds of people protested against on November 23.
Soon afterwards, councillors heard that the BLP was set to come to full council in an extraordinary meeting on December 14.
The campaigners have planned another protest on this day.
Opposition members and protesters raised concerns that the meeting date was too close to the end of the year and was an attempt to ‘rush through’ the BLP.
The date was then moved to just four days away from Christmas, on December 21.
Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) was among those who criticised the move, saying the administration had not taken COVID concerns into account.
He said: “If one person reports symptoms – including any one of the 40-odd members of staff who will be working at the hotel [the meeting location], or any member of the public – anyone who is following procedures will have to cancel their Christmas plans and isolate.
“This debate is already eight years late. We already have a full meeting of the council at the end of January. Why put members, officers and staff at the hotel at risk when it’s just not necessary?”
On Tuesday evening, the administration cancelled the December 21 meeting.
Cllr David Coppinger, lead member for planning, said this ‘had nothing to do’ with COVID or Christmas concerns.
Previously, he told the Advertiser that the reason for the meeting so close to Christmas was ‘to give certainty to everyone as soon as possible.’
He said there was a limit to the number of available calendar dates for such a discussion and even though a Christmas-time meeting will create issues for all members, sooner was better.
The borough cancelled the meeting because it is still waiting for the BLP documents to come back from the Planning Inspectorate.
According to the borough, the independent planning inspector has completed her report and it is currently progressing through a standard internal checking process at a national level before being passed onto the council.
“The meeting date of December 21 was always marked as a provisional date,” said Cllr Coppinger.
“The council had prepared for the possibility of receiving the inspector’s report and holding a full council meeting this month (but) there is no longer the sufficient lead-time required.
“The Planning Inspectorate is taking an unbelievable amount of time. We have made the decision that it would be wrong to keep people holding on. We pushed to get it done as quickly as possible but we’re relying on a third party we have no control over.
“We’re not ready. We all thought we would be, or we wouldn’t have done what we did.”
He added that the borough will confirm the new date for the meeting as quickly as it can – but wishes to avoid the need to change the date again.
“An alternative provisional date will be set as early as possible in the New Year,” he said.
Cllr Geoff Hill (TBH, Oldfield), who has been critical of a December meeting from the beginning, slammed the series of date changes.
“They should have never done this in the first place,” he said. “It looks chaotic and incompetent.”
He said that a simpler course would have been to schedule the meeting only once the inspectorate had declared the BLP legally sound.
“They’re trying to second guess when the plan will be sound. It’s a really bad image for them,” he said.
“The borough is showing a state of utter confusion and an inability to plan properly for something very simple.”
The December 14 protest is still planned to go ahead.