The challenge of meeting the need for additional homes in Maidenhead requires more research, creative thinking and community engagement, according to Maidenhead Civic Society.
The emerging Borough Local Plan sees Maidenhead as a “sustainable location”, capable of taking 70% of the Borough’s total housing requirement of more than 14,000 homes.
The Society, however, is gravely concerned about the impact of such numbers. In its response to the Local Plan consultation, it says the practical effect of around 10,000 new dwellings – an estimated 45% increase in people and cars – on Maidenhead’s compact town centre, its infrastructure and the lifestyle of residents is unsustainable.
The council, it says, should have considered sharing the load, adding a smaller percentage to each existing settlement or even creating new ones. The Society is a strong advocate of the Green Belt but, recognising that growth is inevitable, it believes that a much greater effort is needed – including an uncomfortable debate on green field sites – to reach an acceptable compromise.
And to help meet the extra pressures expected from Crossrail’s arrival the Society says a new station halt in the Cox Green/Woodlands Park area could be an option, as well as enhanced commuter parking at Taplow Station.
Public consultation on the Borough Local Plan Submission Version (BLP) closed on September 27th.
Clearly there is a need for more housing, including affordable homes, to meet existing demand, anticipated growth and, especially, housing for the elderly and young families.
The assessed need of 14,260 new homes over BLP period equates to 24% increase across the Borough. We would have preferred to see:
a simple strategy of adding 24% to each existing settlement to share the load, or
the creation of new settlements but we understand this was not considered.
Maidenhead seems destined to take 70% of the total, i.e. 9,982 new homes, which equates to a 45% increase in population and cars. We believe this undermines the admirable aspirations of the Spatial Vision for a safe, healthy, sustainable environment and has serious implications for traffic, parking and the flood plain. There is little comfort in the Infrastructure Delivery Plan which is merely a wishlist. We are also expected to accept that Supplementary Planning Documents (as yet unwritten) on key issues like heritage assets and character & design will deliver the necessary guarantees.
With its Thames Valley location, unrivalled accessibility and leafy suburbs, Maidenhead is a desirable place to live, offering quality homes in a high quality environment. This is its main appeal. A Local Plan that advocates higher densities, 10,000 mainly flatted new dwellings (there is no stipulation for variety) and relaxed rules on infill development, threatens both its appeal and its character.
A key concern is the removal of restrictions on the location and height of tall buildings in the town centre. The Maidenhead Town Centre Area Action Plan (AAP) represented a community consensus on town centre rejuvenation. We believe the AAP policies on tall buildings and the need for a sustainable mix and choice of housing in the town centre should be retained.
Notably absent from the BLP is anything constructive on Arts, Culture and Tourism in Maidenhead. It also comes without vital supporting documents like an up-to-date Transport Plan, Parking Standards and the anticipated Design Guide.
In essence, we feel we’re being asked to agree a Plan which paints a less than comprehensive picture of how the Borough should evolve. Other options could and should have been explored with the community. Criticism about a lack of public engagement during the process was justified. The Plan pursues a political imperative. Whilst purporting but failing to protect Green Belt, it overturns much of the community-approved Town Centre AAP to doggedly deliver the numbers.