As I drove home recently, I caught an inspirational episode of BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed about the importance of public spaces. Leading sociologists in the US and UK showed how having a good "social infrastructure"--an environment that brings people together and creates a sense of belonging--can improve community spirit and even save lives.
They talked about how carefully planned housing, parks and even benches and pavements can make the difference between someone staying at home alone or exploring the world around them. Good design makes social infrastructure readily accessible for the community, not just a privileged few. Finally, they stressed the importance of working with people across the community to really understand their needs.
I couldn't help but think about the exciting opportunity we have in the Royal Borough, to transform our public spaces for the better. Crossrail is around the corner, putting us just 45 minutes from Oxford Circus and an hour from the East End. The Maidenhead town centre is ripe for development and could become an attractive place to live, work and relax with friends and family, if only plans were based on community needs rather than forecasted financial returns. We can make the most of green spaces across the borough, protecting community spaces like the garden centres in Windsor and green belt in Ascot and the Sunnings. We can also make housing affordable for more people, including the nurses, teachers and social workers whose work is so vital for us all.
I also thought about the price we will all pay if we get it wrong. This is why the stakes for the Borough Local Plan (BLP) are so high for so many people. For example, promises of 30% affordable housing ring hollow when made by Councillors who backed a leader who spent his Christmas calling for the Thames Valley Police to "deal with" the homeless in Windsor before the Royal Wedding. It isn't helped when plans see cookie-cutter homes ploughing over green-belt land or tower blocks of luxury flats taking over potential parklands, community centres or shops. Nor does it help that so few people feel involved in the consultation and development process; good communities are co-developed by residents.
I recently visited my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the United States and found a great example of what's possible here in the Royal Borough. In 2003, voters in this conservative city supported an $880 million (£687 million) investment that exchanged higher taxes to attract businesses (and their jobs) and make the city centre a welcoming place to live and work. They met regularly with residents and other stakeholder groups, working with them to create the plans that were ultimately approved. Over the coming years, the dream came to life. Tulsa is a pleasant city to visit, whether exploring the new arts district, attending a concert in the state-of-the-art arena or strolling through more than four miles of riverside parkland. More information on the changes they made can be found on the following website: www.vision2025.info.
Tulsa is just one example of what's possible in the Royal Borough. Many residents want change, but they want change for the better. Residents want real change backed by evidence and a clear understanding of their needs and visions--not by empty soundbites repeated by party politicians in hopes that they become true.
This is a major reason why I am a proud supporter of "the Borough first" (tBf). tBf provides an opportunity to work with Councillors who will put the Borough's interests over party political goals, and residents' needs over their own career ambitions. Now is our time to dream and to make our Borough the best it can possibly be.
Published and Promoted by Charles Hollingsworth on behalf of “the BOROUGH first“, both of PO BOX 4919, Maidenhead, SL60 1LS