Windsor & Eton Society

STOP PRESS

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Heritage & Environment
STOP PRESS

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STOP PRESS:

August 2020
THE WINDSOR AND ETON SOCIETY

(Incorporating Windsor Heritage)
HERITAGE AND ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE
 

Resignation of Committee member Susy Shearer

It is with some sadness that we received Susy’s resignation from this Committee. The Society owes her an enormous debt of gratitude for all she has contributed during her 20+ years on this Committee. Chairman John Long invited her to become a member after noting her work for a public awareness campaign both in the development of Clewer Manor and of the Convent in Hatch Lane. From the outset she has always given of her time and enthusiasm. She helped establish the quarterly meetings with RBWM and initiated and coordinated the Windsor and Eton Facelift 2012 project.  She has been on the Windsor Cycle Forum for many years and, more recently, has been secretary of the Windsor Neighbourhood Plan (WNP). Susy has acquired a profound knowledge of planning matters and buildings and has a great concern and love for Windsor, its buildings and heritage. Nothing is too much effort for her and we can only say ‘Thank You for all you have done’ She is stepping down from this Committee as she has been asked to be involved with the emerging RBWM Climate Strategy and new Windsor & Maidenhead Cycling Action Group which replaces the previous RBWM Cycle Forum. We wish her well and she was presented with an engraved pen from The Society.

Welcome to Theresa Haggart who has joined the H&E Committee. Theresa is an active member of the WNP and her knowledge of Windsor and planning will be of great benefit to The Society.

Tree and Woodland Strategy 2010 – 2020

A significant number of the applications which the Committee considers each month relate to the pruning or felling of trees; either trees in Conservation Areas or trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). Many more will involve some impact on trees, either trees on site or trees adjacent to the proposed development. In June the Committee considered the Borough’s Tree and Woodland Strategy which provides advice relating to the planting, management and felling of trees throughout the Borough. This Strategy is generally thought to provide a good basis for planning decisions affecting trees and woodland and the Borough’s Tree Team do a good job looking after the interests of trees. However, the Strategy expires later this year and there is nothing on the Borough website to say what will happen then. It was decided to send a letter to the Borough asking what plans they have for updating the Strategy. A speedy and reassuring reply was received saying that the Strategy will be brought up to date before its expiry, ensuring that there will be no gap in advice to developers.

The Committee is also concerned that information on which trees are covered by TPOs is not publicly available. If a particular tree appears to be threatened it is possible to contact the Tree Team to ask if it is protected. It is not, however, possible to check an area on the map for TPOs and this makes the task of ensuring that important trees are protected much more difficult. On this subject, the Borough response was less reassuring. There is an intention to publish the data, but some of it goes back to the 1950s, and we are told that there are anomalies which will have to be resolved before publication. Publishing TPO information will be an objective of a new Tree and Woodland Strategy but so far there is no time frame for this to be achieved. The Committee will continue the keep this matter under review.

Borough Local Plan 

In December 2019 the Committee reviewed the Borough Local Plan (2013-2033) Submission Version Incorporating Proposed Changes October 2019 (BLPSV-PC). We sent a considered response to all the suggested sites in Windsor and also commented on other areas of the BLP where we were either encouraged by proposals or disturbed by them. The Inspector has now produced her Matters Issues and Questions (MIQs) for Stage 2 of the Examination. We were very encouraged by this document and noted that most of the concerns mentioned by us in our letter have been followed up with relevant questions and comments.

STOP PRESS:

JUNE 2020

THE WINDSOR AND ETON SOCIETY

(Incorporating Windsor Heritage)
HERITAGE AND ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE
 

Press Release

The Windsor and Eton Society expresses great Concern over RBWM Planning Process Amendments

At an Extraordinary Full Council 26th May 2020, Constitutional Amendments regarding Development Management Panels were agreed.

The Windsor and Eton Society is extremely concerned about the Report to Full Council referenced above.  We consider the proposals within the Report and the small modifications agreed to be undemocratic and not in the Public Interest, nor will the proposals respect principles of best practice in Planning Procedure and decision making by elected members.

It is difficult to comprehend how a single planning panel would work in an acceptable manner, given that Windsor and Maidenhead and their respective surrounding areas, have vastly differing townships in relation to size, social fabric, environment, history, heritage, etc. 

Development Management Panels’ decisions are quasi-judicial and each planning application is different and has legally to be considered properly within the relevant material and geographical considerations for that application.

Currently, the two Area Development Management Panels, Windsor and Maidenhead, have 11 Councillors on each (plus Reserves).  A total of 22 decision makers for the Areas – plus the Borough Wide Development Management Panel with 13 Councillors (plus Reserves).  A potential of 35 elected decision makers for planning decisions across the Borough.

To reduce their number to 9 cannot be said to be best practice, albeit for a limited period. The suggested quorum of only 3 is undemocratic, lacking in transparency and an appropriate level of scrutiny, and unacceptable.

Referring to the Recommended Option – Table 1 on front page of the Report:
“…. The changes would promote best practice and confidence in decision making.”
Both of these points might be said to be particularly misleading as neither can be demonstrated to be accurate. It will not be best practice compared to other Councils nor is it said who will have confidence.  We do not believe that Borough residents will have any confidence.

Other Councils (examples below) are maintaining their current Planning Panels and successfully running virtual meetings.  In this Report RBWM failed to make a legitimate case for not maintaining the Planning Panels or for these drastic cuts.

Examples of best practice:
1.  Oxford City Council has maintained their two panels for virtual meetings – East Area and West Area – e.g., West Area (11 Wards) 9 Councillors on panel and Quorum 5 (as per best practice.)

2.  Cheltenham Borough Council Planning meeting (28th May) was a Virtual WEBEX video conference with 14 Councillors attending and 15 officers to clarify site related details for the meeting.
This started at 10.30am, break for lunch appx 12.30 , resume at 13.15 and took nearly all day.  That seems sensible where there are a number of important applications to be debated/considered and where the meeting is virtual. A 4MB pdf of Officer Presentation was included with the Agenda before meeting.

Those Councils clearly expect to deliver “robust” planning decisions without seeing the need to ‘disenfranchise’ elected members, which is in stark contrast to these RBWM proposals.

The two examples above witness the fact that the statement in Paragraph 2.5 of the Report might be said to be misleading and/or inaccurate.

Also in para 2.7:
“There is a need to provide speedy and consistent decisions on planning matters at this time and ….”
“…. fast and consistent decisions may be required to ensure swift economic recovery within the Borough.”

This concerns us. What is meant by “speedy”, “fast”, “consistent”, “swift economic recovery”?

We also note that this new process will be reviewed in December 2020.  We believe that there needs to be an option for review earlier with a possible return to the previous panels as improving circumstances may permit. The Society considers that the 9 member Panel should operate for the shortest period possible in the interests of local democracy.

It is also noted that the proposed Chairman of the new Panel is the current Chairman of Maidenhead Area Development Management Panel as well as Chairman of the Licensing Panel and Vice-Chairman of the Infrastructure Overview & Scrutiny Panel.

We had  urged Counsellors  to vote against the undemocratic proposals and in our view the modifications do not address  our points above adequately. 

Chair: The Heritage and Environment Committee
Windsor & Eton Society