Last week, the Royal Borough published the latest updates on the Borough Local Plan (BLP) and it wasn’t pleasant reading.
The Inspector found significant problems with the quality of work done in two major areas: Flood Risk Assessment and Housing Land Availability. She also noted other questions were likely around housing numbers, housing supply, employment provision and water supply. The Inspector recommended a pause in the process, given the need for further public consultation. The Council replied by agreeing to the pause and noting that public consultation would take place after the May elections.
The problems raised so far are pretty fundamental. It wasn’t that long ago—2014—when Datchet, Wraysbury and other areas along the Thames were flooded and many residents lost their homes. Given the scale of devastation seen in the Royal Borough, it’s surprising that the Council hadn’t done more to assess the risk of future floods. Housing is also surprising, given that it has been a top issue in the public agenda for years. The Council has also avoided a much-needed public discussion around where homes should be built, creating tension as plans such as the Landing in Maidenhead have already been approved. The Landing delivers greater height and density than was even planned for in the Borough Local Plan, along with concerns that it will be providing a poor quality of life for future residents.
Had the Borough listened as they created the BLP, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we have a BLP that has given more concern than assurance for residents across the Borough. That is compounded by concerns from the Inspector over even basic questions.
The Inspector is clearly suggesting that the most efficient and prudent course of action may be for the Council to withdraw it and think again. I couldn't agree more. Rather than plodding through with a divisive and deeply flawed plan, why don’t we start afresh and create a BLP that’s truly fit-for-purpose in revitalising our Borough? We’ve seen that creating a BLP behind closed doors and ramming it through the approvals process just doesn’t work.
Why not seize this moment and bring residents and businesses together to create a BLP that will work? There are lots of people with great ideas, so why not bring them together to see what’s possible? There are difficult conversations and difficult choices that have to be made—like trade-offs between meeting housing needs and protecting greenbelt—so why not have those conversations?
I for one think residents are ready and able to dream and to debate on the future of our Borough. I also think that, by doing that, we can have a proper plan that not only passes an Inspector’s examination, but also commands the respect of our community. It can even dare us to dream as we take advantage of opportunities such as the arrival of Crossrail to make the Borough an even better place to live and work.
Tony Perry is a quality improvement lead in the NHS and a resident of Cox Green.
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