CHAIRMANS REPORT 2016
Every year I say that the past year has been a very busy one, and every year it gets busier as the pressure on our valuable Green Belt and open environment increases. This year is no exception and the future is looking very uncertain.
The fact that RBWM has no Local Plan in place yet has made the situation considerably worse. Planners are having to implement the national rules of the NPPF ( National Planning Policy Framework ) which are considerably more relaxed than the Local Plan is likely to be, especially regarding the Green Belt.
The Governments Policy is forcing councils to unrealistic housing targets, effectively driving the possibility of unnecessary greenfield development. The Borough have pledged to protect our Green Belt and development can only take place in “very special circumstances”. This depends how this is implemented considering we are in an area of around 90% Green Belt.
We have pledged as an Association to protect our green environment and particularly not to allow the very important gap between Windsor and Maidenhead to be further reduced.
I believe that this progressively weakening planning system we now have has not necessarily lead to more houses being built, but the same number, in the wrong places i.e. the countryside. Local authorities over England are planning for 270,000 a year for the next 15 years and developers are sitting on large land banks. These developers will target the easier, greenfield sites if they are available, and ignore the brownfield sites.
I am not saying that this is happening in the Royal Borough who are actively seeking “brownfield sites” or “previously developed sites” to try to solve their problems. We commend them for this, but if targets cannot be met they will have to seek other areas ( e.g. Maidenhead Golf course now downgraded from Green Belt land and available for development)
Our past year has been to uphold our policy regarding the Green Belt and the openness of the countryside. For example we opposed the siting of the Phoenix Gym on the outskirts of Fifield on GB land ( sadly agreed to by the Boroughs Planning Committee mainly as “a very special circumstance” I believe). Similarly, the Appeals currently going on with the Brayfield Stables gypsy site on A308 and the re-locating of the Squash and Leisure Club from Windsor both in this vulnerable gap between our two towns. Further development at Coningsby Lane Farm has gone to Appeal now as well. The considerable enlargement of the car wash at Wyevale Garden Centre has caused local residents to question the legality of the site.
I have to say that Inspectors have been very robust in their interpretation of the National rules and have refused appeals on many locations in the area that we have been involved with.
However there are small developments we need to monitor and keep pressurizing the Enforcement team to continue monitoring. These include the Old Queens Head site and Kimbers Lane Farm ( recently lost their appeal).
I need also to point out that we are not in the game of opposing all proposed development in the area. We monitor developments that are not conforming to the given Planning consent but sensible proposals on previously developed land, we have often approved with certain restrictions we feel necessary ( eg Water Oakley and Bray Studios ). These sort of proposals are acceptable under NPPF rules whether we like it or not. All we can do is influence the size and content of the development. Hopefully we have achieved some of this.
We have become particularly concerned as to the increasing use of “ Permitted Development Rights” and “ Lawful Development Certificates” and have asked the Borough to meet with us and other associations to explain them, as they appear to us to be sometimes a means of bypassing the planning process.
We will continue to fight to protect your environment. Your support is essential. Luckily we have supportive Borough Councillors and Parish Councillors in this area. We are able to influence decision making as we have proved, but I do have reservations as to the future and what Fifield and Oakley Green will look like in 20 years time.
We are always looking for new Committee members to help us with the increasing workload, so please contact me or any committee member if you are interested. We meet 6 to 8 times a year in the beautiful Saxon Barn. I have a great team to work with and my thanks to them for all their help over the past 12 months.