Snapdragon at PLMR recently held its latest ‘In Conversation With…’ event, an exciting series where we speak with key figures in local government about planning and development. Account Director, Natasha Kendall, spoke to Councillor David Coppinger, the Cabinet Member for Planning, Environmental Services and Maidenhead at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). They discussed the area’s new Local Plan, retail provision and future models of housing.
Maidenhead and Windsor is a small borough, with only 130,000 residents, and this brings both advantages and disadvantages. Due to its size, and status as a unitary authority, local councillors have a deep understanding of their patch and control all services. However, council tax is the lowest outside of London, and it is a challenge to provide much needed services. There is a desperate need for affordable housing locally, with high prices impeding new buyers, and children of existing residents are forced to move out of the area.
Maidenhead is in fierce competition with similar sized commuter towns such as Reading and Slough, and needs new provision to stop shoppers from being drawn away. This is in contrast with other areas of the borough that possess major attractions; Windsor is the home of both the Queen and Legoland, and Ascot is home to the famous racecourse. The film industry is also rebounding in the area with studios being brought forward by Netflix and Amazon.
Green belt land covers 84% of RBWM, and whilst this is a blessing for those who live in the borough, it also poses an obstacle for development. The council is charged with both protecting this green space and enabling future growth, and Cllr Coppinger accepts it must make tough decisions. While brownfield sites are available they are more useful for flats than family homes. The area’s other major environmental constraint is the Thames, and flooding renders large areas of land unsuitable for housing.
The Council has been without a Local Plan for nearly a decade, as the last one expired in 2013; that wait may be finally coming to an end. Last week, Cllr Coppinger received news that the planning inspectorate had found the plan ‘sound’, including its land allocation and housing figures. The next challenge lies in wait; the Conservatives have a slender majority on the Council and approval is uncertain. Councillor Coppinger asserted that the lack of a plan exposes the borough to unwanted development, and warned that if it fails to pass, the Government will likely intervene.
Cllr Coppinger outlined his vision for the future of Maidenhead, as a place where residents can visit a fantastic range of cafes, restaurants, and bars. Retail provision is clearly on his mind, with a focus on small independent stores rather than larger chains. He acknowledged there was a long way to go, as shops are being pushed out for new housing, but committed to finding new locations for them to move into.
Planning reforms are a priority on the policy agenda, and Cllr Coppinger shares the concern of other local politicians we’ve spoken to, that they may take away powers from local people. He does not want to see a situation in which the Government makes decisions about what happens locally. Instead, he wants to see people become part of the decision-making process, so they can understand why things are being done. To improve local engagement, he has recently set up a Youth Council to reach younger residents and is forming a Town Team to help drive change.
Windsor and Maidenhead is well equipped for mature residents, with Cllr Coppinger revealing they had more retirement/care home places per head than anywhere else in the country. However, the Council is not resting on its laurels. He discussed how specialised later living accommodation is coming forward in Maidenhead, which is designed specifically for older people, with care provided as an ‘add-on’ as residents require it. Developments such as these can help fill the gap in the market for people looking to downsize after retirement, and free up much-needed family homes.
As the Government struggles to respond to the UK’s housing crisis, new and innovative forms of development are needed, such as modular homes. Cllr Coppinger recently visited a new estate of these homes in London and was very impressed with what he saw, noting the potential they have to deliver more affordable accommodation. Councillor Coppinger shared that no modular homes proposals had come forward so far in RBWM.
The webinar provided insight into the Local Plan process and the future development of RBWM. We are very grateful to Cllr Coppinger for his time and for sharing his thoughts.
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