Application 20/01251 - Site known as Nicholsons Quarter - follow up

Comments on Application 20/01251 - Nicholsons Quarter

Hybrid application -

OUTLINE for 4 buildings up to 88.7 mts. comprising up to 29,400 m2 Residential and 29,700 m2 Business use.  Up to 4,400 m2 flexible retail, restaurants and cafes, assembly and leisure and up to 13,600 m2 parking and plant space. New pedestrian / vehicular access, parking, public open space and landscaping.

FULL for demolition in main and construction of 2 residential buildings - one of 25 storeys and one part 10/part 15 storeys. Construction of a 4 storey office building and erection of multi storey car park. Provision of public open space and landscaping.

This scheme involves the demolition of the main covered shopping area in Maidenhead and a presumption that there will no longer be a requirement for retail or eating/ drinking in an environment sheltered from the elements. The size and scale of the project will involve at least 5 years of disruption and upheaval to the beating heart of the town. Although planning expediency requires speedy decisions, it does not seem appropriate that the timescale for considering revised plans of this magnitude is the same as a loft conversion, with less than four weeks between the submission of revised plans on 17th November and a deadline for comments on 10th December.

The street level applications of the scheme are appealing. Opening the original North/South and East/West thoroughfares will improve the permeability of the town centre, and central meeting points such as Nicholas Winton Square will create a social focus. We welcome the reintroduction of some of the historical names and connections which are associated with Maidenhead's heritage. The variety in size and end use of the retail units will create an interesting diversity of shopping, dining, drinking and other leisure activities and services. The interface and juxtaposition of the scheme with the High Street Conservation Area is very important if the town centre is to  function as a whole. However, this appealing treatment of the scheme at street level will create potential problems for shoppers and other pedestrians with lack of shelter from the wind and rain. Whatever tests are undertaken on models there is the likelihood that in real life the bulk, height and mass of the buildings above will create wind tunnel or canyon effects at street level. Even with stepped back upper floors there will be limited sunlight / daylight.

Regretfully, the sequencing of the redevelopment of Maidenhead Town Centre means that this Nicholson's Quarter proposal follows a stream of previously approved schemes of residential flats. To fund the overall scheme it is necessary to include blocks of flats which will contribute to the estimated 3,000 such town centre dwellings completed or in the pipeline. Whilst the status of the Landing proposals in the King Street / Broadway / Queen Street triangle is unclear, there are further developments to come such as St Cloud Way, to be followed by West Street. The viability of the Nicholson's Quarter scheme is largely dependent on delivering 346 residential flats in Zone 5 and a further 307 units in a Senior Living format known as Zone 6. To deliver this number of properties the development will feature a 25 storey tower block - euphemistically described as a landmark.

It is understood that the majority of these high rise apartments will have balconies as leisure amenity space, but the historical social problems associated with such living conditions are well documented. Maidenhead is a town not a city and it is important that the bulk, mass and height of our town centre development is proportionate to the setting. The prevailing height of residential developments in the town centre should be 7 or 8 storeys. The permitted application for The Landing regretfully went to 17 storeys. This precedent has been taken as a yardstick to facilitate the introduction of a further 8 storeys in this scheme. The supporting documentation suggest that community feedback indicated 60% support for a 25 storey block, but it is clear that amongst the members of Maidenhead Civic Society this is the single issue to which the majority take exception.   Furthermore, we do not believe that the RBWM Tall Buildings Study does support 25 storeys. The maximum height of this development should be no higher than that permitted for The Landing. If permission is granted for 25 storeys then rather than solely residential, consideration should be given to mixed use - commercial, offices, civic - in addition to residential.

In the light of the terrible events at Grenfell Tower there is a focus on the fire risks associated with high rise blocks. Although the Design and Access Statement refers to a Fire Strategy for the development no details are provided. The 25 storey block of Zone 5 is divided into two separate cores - 5A and 5B. However, each core has only a single staircase. Following the Grenfell experience, we understand that two staircases are recommended - one for evacuation of residents and another for access by emergency services. Sprinklers are also recommended throughout. As Berkshire House is currently the only high rise building in Maidenhead, it will be interesting to see the comments of Berkshire Fire and Rescue as consultees on the proposal to introduce a 25 storey block to the town centre.

We note the variety of dwelling types in Zone 5, although we have severe reservations about the suitability of  high rise units for family living. We are pleased to observe that the  areas of the various flat types adhere to the Nationally Described Space Standards. However, we are concerned that there are no detailed plans provided for Zone 6 - which is the Senior Assisted Living element of 307 units - which may well be intended to include smaller living units. If Zone 6 was an individual development of this size and not part of a larger scheme then detailed planning permission would not be granted without "the details."  We are also unhappy at the large outline element of this application for a further 29,400 m2 of residential and 29,700 m2 of business use, where no details are provided. The number of flats still to come is unclear, and we believe that with a project of this significance full detailed planning permission should be sought for the total scheme. As it stands the scheme has 653 dwelling units in the full application and an unspecified number of flats in the 29,400 m2 within the outline application.

There will be a total of 1,319 car park spaces in the scheme of which 700 are for public parking. The Multi Storey Car Park (Zone 4) has been reduced in height and size from the original proposals and now has a capacity of 885 spaces. We are unsure on what basis the decision to reduce the number of parking spaces by approximately 390 was made. The original proposed capacity for an extended Nicholsons Car Park was increased by RBWM to allow for the under-provision of parking associated with the Landing development. It is assumed that the reduction in MSCP capacity has been mutually agreed with RBWM. We note that the size of parking spaces is being retained at the current standard, and it is to be hoped that vehicle size will start to decrease over time. However, the provision of only 125 charging points for electric vehicles is inadequate, and it will be expensive and disruptive in the long term to retrofit morecharging points. In fact, just as disabled spaces are located at lower levels, other lower floors should be exclusively for electric vehicles to positively encourage the switch to electric.

We would point out that the introduction of two new bus stops does not significantly improve getting around town. There is a poor and inadequate local bus service, that runs infrequently and often not after 6pm or on Sundays.

Additional  positive elements of the scheme include the landscaping and introduction of many trees to soften the setting. We welcome the treatment of the west end of Broadway and setting back Sydenham Place to improve access from the south. The new settings of lanes and yards will create individual quarters with their own character. The introduction of meeting places and public realm raises potential problems with accountability for long term maintenance.

As previously stated we welcome the attempt to generate a new retail, dining and leisure landscape for Maidenhead. However, the viability of the scheme hinges on the need to introduce 653 new flats and 31,000 m2 of offices to fund the redevelopment at street level. As currently proposed we object to the full application element for the following reasons:

  • The height, bulk and mass of the scheme is excessive for a town the size of Maidenhead.
  • The height of the landmark tower at 25 storeys is also excessive.
  • Fire risk associated with tower block residential units - in particular a single staircase in Core 5A and Core 5B
  • The scheme requires the introduction of a further 653 dwelling units, which are all flats.
  • Lack of pedestrian cover from the elements.
  • Lack of detailed proposals for Zone 6