Petition for Debate - Maidenhead Golf Course/Great Park
- Meeting of Extraordinary Meeting, Council, Tuesday, 2nd March, 2021 6.15 pm, NEW (Item 87.)
- View the declarations of interest for item 87.
The Constitution provides for a maximum time of 30 minutes to debate petitions; this can be overruled at the Mayor’s discretion.
In accordance with the Constitution, the order of speaking shall be as follows:
a) The Mayor may invite the relevant officer to set out the background to the petition
b) The Lead Petitioner to address the meeting on the petition (5 minutes maximum)
c) The Mayor to invite any relevant Ward Councillors present to address the meeting. (5 minutes maximum each)
d) The Mayor to invite the relevant officer to provide any further comment.
e) The Mayor will invite all Members to debate the matter (Rules of Debate as per the
Adrien Waite, Head of Planning explained that the item before Members was a petition for debate asking that a new park be created on the site of Maidenhead Golf Course, in order to create a green lung.
The golf course was the largest site allocation in the Borough Local Plan (BLP) which Council had voted to submit to the planning inspectorate last year, and had subsequently been through an examination in public. The site was in a sustainable location and if allocated in the BLP would provide significant provision of new housing. This included much needed family and affordable accommodation necessary to provide a home for existing residents and those who wished to live in the borough. It would also provide facilities contributing to the educational, leisure and recreational needs of residents.
The allocation within the Local Plan would seek to require the retention of existing areas of woodland and mature trees, the enhancement of local biodiversity, and the creation of new areas of publicly accessible green space to include a ‘green spine’ through the entire development. In essence the proposed allocation would create parks or equivalent open spaces, albeit this may not be of the type or scale of the park envisaged by the petitioners.
The proposed BLP was part of a well thought out spatial strategy based on extensive evidence and a process of public engagement. The evidence base considered by the Council previously included the Open Space Study 2019 which confirmed that Maidenhead was well served by public parks and gardens. The council was already expanding provision by establishing informal natural space at Battlemead Common and, were the site allocated in the BLP, this would further enhance publicly accessible space in the area.
The BLP had also been supported by a full sustainability appraisal which concluded that the loss of green space on the site needed to be weighed against other factors that would be delivered by the allocation and that the development would lead to strong positive effects for housing, health, community, transport, education and waste. In summary, the current proposal to allocate the site for the purposes in the BLP would lead to a high quality sustainable development which would incorporate green space and contribute to a variety of strong positive effects for all residents of the borough and be delivered within a 10 year timescale. As the largest site allocation in the BLP it was key to the success of the placemaking strategy for the borough.
Supporting the petition would undermine the ability of the council to proceed with its well thought out local plan. If the site was not made available for development, alternative sites would need to be identified to accommodate the development which would likely involve allocation of green belt sites such as those identified in Appendix 2. This would lead to a less sustainable pattern of development and overall a poorer strategy for development in the borough and less benefits for residents. It would also make it more difficult to resist speculative development through the planning process and make it harder to ensure the council delivered the best quality of place for all.
Supporting the petition would also have significant financial and legal implications as set out in sections 4 and 5 of the main report. Given there was a current lease on the golf course there was no prospect of a park being created for at least 20 years, whereas the proposed allocation would deliver significant benefits for residents within the next 10 years.
The recommendation of officers to Council was therefore that the petition could not be supported.
Tina Quadrino, Lead Petitioner, addressed the meeting. Ms Quadrino stated that the issue was dear to her heart and the hearts of the 4448 people from all over the borough who had signed the petition. These residents had signed up to a dream of what could be and it was in the power of the council to continue to protect the important piece of green belt land, just as was intended when a previous Mayor bought the land and entrusted it to the council for safekeeping many years ago. The town was in a very different space now than it was when the BLP was first created. Since then a climate emergency had been declared and rightly the borough had pledged to protect biodiversity and meet a carbon net zero target by 2050.
Since the BLP a global pandemic had occurred which would change the way people lived and worked forever. Shopping was predominantly online and home working had been shown to be effective for employers and employees alike. This meant that the need for commercial and office space would be reduced, freeing up many brownfield sites that would be ripe for development. Ms Quadrino stated that it was irreconcilable to mention carbon net zero in one breath and destroying green space in the next. For hundreds of years the piece of land had been acting as a green lung to combat air pollution, noise pollution and act as a carbon sink. And yet now, when it was needed more than ever, there were proposals to concrete it over. The green belt land that was leased by the golf club had been critical to the health and wellbeing, both mental and physical, of many Maidenhead residents in the last year.
The council had earmarked the land for housing and said there was nowhere else left to build. If the 2018 Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) numbers were used the borough was already there in terms of houses needed in the borough and this did not even take into account things like the Nicholson’s Quarter that did not yet have planning permission.
In summary, there was no need to build on the golf course to meet the current housing need. There was a climate emergency with a need to reach carbon net zero by 2050 and the global pandemic had changed the work/life balance forever, leaving many brownfield sites vacant and ripe for transformation to meet future housing needs. Ms Quadrino suggested that the only argument for putting a large village on the golf course was money. She was furious that the council was willing to compromise the future health and wellbeing of generations to get itself out of debt due to its own negligence. It was not enough that local services and libraries would be lost, at least these could be reinstated later. Once the green lung was gone, it would be gone forever. Ms Quadrino highlighted that the councillors were the custodians of the public land and not property developers. She asked if the council would answer to its residents, their children and grandchildren, when they witnessed the destruction of the green space and all the benefits that came with it. She asked if the council would take full responsibility for it and be remembered forever as the people who gave permission to build on the land. The arguments for keeping the space green were many and if in time it became a park for everyone, all the benefits could be amplified. More trees could be planted, biodiversity could be increased and more opportunities could be provided to allow people to access the space for exercise, education and so much more. Maidenhead Great Park would put the town on the map as a destination and be a key part of its sustainable transformation.
Councillor Hill proposed the following motion:
This Council agrees not to build on Maidenhead Golf Course and to keep our green lung with its trees and wildlife for the continued benefits to our community and future generations
Councillor Taylor seconded the motion.
The Head of Planning confirmed there was nothing he wished to clarify at this point in the debate.
In introducing his motion, Councillor Hill posed a number of questions:
· What price, the health of the children of the borough?
· What price, our physical and mental health?
· What price, clean air?
· What price, the oxygen we breathe? Trees and green plants were the oxygen factories.
· What price, our countryside and green space?
· What price, the environment, the planet, the survival as a specie?
Councillor Hill stated that all the above were more precious than money ever could be; there was always a way to fix the money. The sale of Maidenhead Golf Club was not about housing it was about money and nothing else. The Inspector for the BLP in a letter of 13 July 2020 clearly stated that the OAN between 2013-2033 had halved from 12,691 households to 6,382. The Freedom of Information (FOI) request 75675 stated that between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2020, 3,762 dwellings were completed in the borough. A further FOI 75771 stated that as at 31 March 2020 2,830 dwellings had planning permission but were unimplemented. The two figures combined to give 6,592 dwellings and exceeded the need detailed by the Inspector. Councillor Hill suggest there were more than enough planning applications in the current pipeline to satisfy the OAN without building on Maidenhead Golf Course.
Councillor Hill stated that he wishes to raise a critical and key question to the officers and Cabinet. Sections 4.6 & 5.4 of the paper stated that should RBWM breach its development agreement with CALA Homes to develop the site south west Maidenhead or should the BLP not be adopted or site AL13 was removed from the BLP the council would incur costs for breach of the agreement. Councillor Hill states that this was the first he had heard of any such penalty clause and wished for Council to know before they voted, the details of the penalty clause and the cost to RBWM and the tax payer. Councillors must be clear on the consequences of any vote they made at the meeting.
Councillor Hill asked on behalf of the 4448 residents who signed the petition just what had taken place in the negotiations with CALA Homes and just how did the council end up with a potentially penal contract when it was by no means certain that the BLP would be approved, that the Golf Club would vacate the site or that planning permission would be granted?
The vote was a fundamental question of democratic representation of the people. 4448 residents had put their names to the petition, the third largest ever recorded in RBWM. This was in the midst of a global pandemic when people had many more immediate concerns on their minds. If the council voted the motion down, it would be going against the will of people.
Councillor Werner commented that the council had a fantastic opportunity to do something really amazing for Maidenhead. His fear was that it was an opportunity that he could see the councillors opposite allowing to fall through their fingers.
The advantages of keeping the as green space were obvious. It is important for physical health and mental health. It was important for the world’s biodiversity and it was important for the fight against climate change. Research had shown that access to green space was vital to health and wellbeing and with all the flats being built in Maidenhead town centre with little or no car parking, the site, only 10 minutes’ walk away made it even more essential. As the borough came out of lockdown, he suggested it was the perfect opportunity to press pause on the 2600 homes that were proposed for the site instead of a great park. The council just did not know at this time how office use would change, potentially freeing up other sites across Maidenhead. Nor did the council know how home ownership would change. If people were not commuting so much into London but home working, he questioned if there was a need to sacrifice the vital green lung for our town.
Councillor Werner commented that Members had already head from Councillor Hill about the number of houses required and in any case there were a large number of empty homes which he had been campaigning for the council to bring back in to use. With four and a half thousand people signing the petition it showed there was a massive desire in the community to protect the land. Finally he highlighted that this was one of the previous Cabinet schemes and he knew how keen the administration was to distance itself from the actions of that Cabinet. Councillor Werner suggested it was a great opportunity to say no to that legacy and abandon plans to build on the site. It was so important that the council stopped paying lip service to the green agenda and actually take action and this was an easy way to do it.
Councillor Coppinger thanked the organisers of the petition and everyone who has signed it. He explained that the golf course was part of a larger site which was referred to as AL13. It was the most significant site within the emerging Borough Local Plan for a number of reasons. It was the largest site with provision for 2600 houses which would meet the needs for affordable housing, family homes and also providing for educational, leisure and recreation needs As the council owned the site, not only was it a very sustainable site but it would enable the council to significantly increase the public access because it had already committed to retain existing woodland and other mature trees, conserve and enhance local biodiversity and create new areas of public space including a green and blue spine running north to south.
The council had started a place making workshop for another major site in the west of Windsor. A number of local councillors were involved together with representatives of the community. The purpose was to get local input into what they wanted in the development and what they wanted it to look like. The council would shortly be starting a similar project for the golf course site.
Councillor Coppinger stated that he did fully understand why so many people wanted the park so he wanted to highlight what would happen if the council agreed. Firstly, the golf course would continue to lease the land and could do so until the lease expired in 2039, therefore it would be at least 20 years before anything could happen. He commented that no one had yet told him who would pay for the construction and upkeep of the park. By law the council had to have an approved BLP and even worse the current one was out of date. Developers knew this and were continually trying to push through inappropriate developments. It was expected that the plan that was in examination would be approved by the end of the year. If the council told the examiner that it could no longer meet the housing allocation that would be the end of the plan and the council would have to start again. The consequences were that every developer would descend on the borough and try to push through inappropriate development. Even worse the council would have to find other sites that it could build 2600 houses on. That was easy because it already had a list of green belt land that was available but unlike the golf course, they were not sustainable. They would all require transport links and would put pressure on local communities. He highlighted that the list included:
· 3 sites in Ascot and the Sunnings
· 11 sites in Bisham and Cookham
· 36 sites in Bray
· 2 sites in Clewer and Dedworth
· 3 sites in Cox Green
· 9 sites in Datchet Horton and Wraysbury
· 5 sites in Eton and Castle
· 20 sites in Hurley and the Walthams
· 5 sites in Old Windsor
· 1 site on Pinkneys Green
· 1 site in Riverside
· 13 sites in Sunningdale and Cheapside
Except for a few sites close to existing developments most of the sites were not sustainable and would require transport to reach facilities such as schools, shops, and medical services. The council had committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and he hoped and expected the target to be reached earlier. The golf club site helped the council achieve the target; any other option did not.
Councillor Coppinger reminded Members that at the last Council meeting he had spent some time talking about CIL and especially the type of site that developers wanted. This was one of those sites and because it was not in central Maidenhead the council would expect to receive somewhere between £26 and £35 million to pay for the necessary infrastructure.
In conclusion, Councillor Coppinger highlighted that the council had to build 2600 dwellings to meet the housing target. Building on the golf course was sustainable and enabled the council to maintain and expand the current green infrastructure. The council was committed to creating a new green and blue way through the whole of the development. All new properties would be built to meet the latest requirements for climate change. The council would receive the necessary CIL to pay for the infrastructure and would build a new school. If the proposals for the golf course did not go ahead, there would not be a BLP for maybe 3 years and at an additional cost of over a £1m. The council would have to build on the green belt across the borough. There would be no new school and many of the existing schools would not be capable of expanding. 2600 homes across a number of isolated sites was not sustainable. The Golf Club would stay until 2039. He still did not know who would pay for the new Great Park. Councillor Coppinger asked all Members to say no to the motion as it was wrong for the people of Maidenhead and it was wrong for the Borough
The Head of Planning clarified that the OAN that was set out in the council’s evidence base for the BLP was 712 dwellings per annum which equated to about 14,240 dwellings over the plan period. The government had already advised that 2016 population projections could not be used for the purposes of calculating housing need. Using 2018 population projections would not make any meaningful change to the OAN. The government’s more recent methodologies would result in a more standard methodology of housing need of about 754 dwellings per hectare. In reality if the council did not proceed under the current BLP, it would be faced with a higher housing number under current planning policy. In terms of the statement that the council had enough housing to meet its need, it was simply not correct. The annual monitoring reports that set out the level of delivery and the extensive evidence provided in the BLP examination clearly showed that the council did not have enough housing to meet its need. This was not just in pure numbers but also in terms of providing the types and tenures of housing to meet the needs of residents, including the need to provide larger family homes for residents.
Councillor Stimson referred to the placemaking workshops for another major site that were currently taking place. She was involved in the workshops in her capacity as Lead Member for climate change and sustainability. Also involved were residents who live adjacent or nearby to the site, one of the council’s ecologists, the developer, other councillors and parish councillors, planners and a highly experienced urban designer who had worked on design review panels, written a book on “building for life” and taught urban design.
When the team started to work on the master plan for AL13, there would be a consultation process, and the Managing Director of the RBWM Property Company had confirmed that if there were any groups that wished to put forward proposals to make the development as sustainable as possible, she would ensure they were heard. Just like the placemaking workshops that were happening for the Windsor site at the moment, Councillor Stimson confirmed that she planned to be involved in these as well. There were obvious advantages in building sustainability in at the onset. Beginning with the mature trees and existing woodland, the master plan would be built around them. There would be a focus on sustainable transport and how people would walk and cycle across the site. Consideration would be given to the low carbon district heating that would be used to heat AL13. Sustainability was not an afterthought, and there were plenty of examples around the country to be draw from to show how it could be profitable and beautiful, and it was certainly healthier for the residents. Also, when consultation took place, it was possible to have less iterations of a plan, and hence save money for the things that really mattered, like affordable housing and sustainability.
Councillor Stimson explained that she had walked with Debbie Walker, one of the petitioners, on the golf course and knew how keenly many people felt about it. There was a tree at the top right corner that might well be the oldest oak in the area, and she believed Ted Green, formerly the Crown Estate’s ancient tree expert, had been to admire it. Councillor Stimson explained that her father had a plus 4 handicap so she knew a thing or two about golf courses, having traipsed after him on countless rounds. Councillor Stimson stated that she loved the idea of saving the golf course, but it was just not practical. It was a site not in the floodplain, it was in the emerging BLP, and it was committed to development. What could be done was make it the best exemplar of sustainable living possible.
Councillor W. Da Costa stated that the BLP was the core plank in the Conservative administration’s vision for the Borough. It set out a plan to sell off the borough’s green gold land in order to balance the books, to desperately stave off the ruin caused by the council tax policies of the last 12 years. The council was tying itself in knots because of a failing BLP. This was preventing the council’s ability to deal with the issues that threatened the very existence of the borough’s children: misery, sickness and death caused by climate change.
Councillor W. Da Costa suggested that the BLP was incompatible with life. Yet the BLP should be a key document to reach zero carbon emissions quickly, to provide a safe haven in new buildings from 40 degree heat, flooding, and high snow levels. The BLP should dovetail in with a comprehensive Biodiversity Actin Plan (BAP) that planned to stave off extinction of UK species of plants and animals. The BLP should plan for health and wealth, rather than ignore the wellbeing of residents and wealth creation from a green building plan. A core part of that non-existent green BLP and thorough BAP should be the protection of the land on the golf course site.
Councillor W. Da Costa asked if Members cared about the future, and the life and death of the borough’s children. If they did, he suggested that they should think again and vote for the motion to create and build on an oasis of wildlife and carbon sequestration. The council also needed to quickly create a new BLP that was compatible with life, life to the full.
Councillor Johnson endorsed the comments made by Councillor Coppinger and the Head of Planning. He felt that the debate was not actually about creating a new park for Maidenhead, but about the BLP. He therefore felt it was a very premature debate because the council was still waiting for the Inspector’s comments following examination. Councillor Johnson saw the motion as a way to remove the site from the BLP, which would damage the totality of the plan for the entre borough. The council would see a rise in speculative development and the council would lose control of where sustainable development would be placed. The golf course site was a very sustainable site close to the town centre, the railway station and existing infrastructure and community facilities. It was an ideal location for large scale residential development. Councillor Johnson highlighted that the key question was, if not on this site, then where? The administration stood committed to deliver the site in the BLP. It would provide housing opportunities for future borough residents, including affordable housing, green space and the associated educational and leisure infrastructure. If the site was not progressed through the BLP, the golf course would remain on the site. The council would not want to spend tax payer money to break the lease on the site so no park would be created for some time.
Councillor Davey asked why councillors had not previously been notified of the penalties detailed in paragraphs 4.6 and 5.4. He asked for the contract with Cala Homes to be shared with Members as a Part II document.
Councillor McWilliams commented that it was important to look at what the statisticians were saying. The ONS lower projections were based on the assumption that more people were living with parents or cohabiting in homes of multiple occupancy. This demonstrated that the demand for housing was falling as people could not afford to buy houses and/or rent houses and/or the type of housing they needed was not available. This did not mean the overall demand for housing was falling. Home ownership in the southeast for people aged between 20 and 34 had fallen from over 63% in the mid-1990s to less than 40% now. The number of 20-34 year olds living with parents rose 47% between 2006 and 2016. Over 30% of young men aged 20-34 were living with parents which was an astonishing figure and an indictment on the country’s house building policy over the last 30 years. It was important to reflect on the implications for young people, for example they were not able to start a family until later in life. It forced everything to be pushed later in life. There was an impact of the lack of affordable housing in the borough on the housing service. Demand had increased 100% in the latest economic crisis which had put huge pressure on the organisation and the social housing stock was simply not available. This meant a greater reliance on temporary accommodation.
Councillor McWilliams stated that the golf course site was a once in a generation opportunity to right a historic wrong when it came to the delivery of affordable housing. The council and residents owned the land therefore when it was built on, it meant the council could deliver the social value that was often lost within private developments, through carbon neutral developments and the biggest increase in social housing in many years. It was wrong from a moral and a strategic point of view to support the motion as it would be throwing away an opportunity to support the vulnerable and the young in the borough.
Councillor Baldwin commented that by highlighting as Councillor Coppinger did the potential enormous return from CIL, he had also highlighted the lost opportunity of collecting CIL from Maidenhead town centre developments. In relation to Councillor Johnson’s earlier question ‘if not this site, then where?’ Councillor Baldwin referred to a planning panel on which Councillor Jonson had sat before he had become leader and had voted against a development that would have generated 40% affordable housing on a redundant farmer’s field, a site without the history of the golf course. Councillor Baldwin commented that he would welcome an explanation of the penalty clauses that existed with the Cala Homes contract before Members voted.
Councillor Bateson explained that the BLP process had started in 2011 when she had been the Lead Member; it had therefore been over 10 years in the making. If the golf course site was not included, the BLP process would have to start all over again at a cost of over £1m.
Councillor Sharpe stated that it was important to maintain as much green space as possible and keep an open lung for the town centre. One of the key ways to do this was to reduce the footprint of the buildings. Several towns were now building upwards to preserve green space. The council should review the plan for the area in light of this.
Councillor C. Da Costa requested clarification that the buildings would be for affordable housing and social housing. She commented that to go ahead with something because it cost money not to do so was not always the right thing to do. It would never be possible to get back a 100 year old tree therefore you could not put a price on it.
The Head of Planning referred Members to paragraph 2.8 of the report. The allocation in the BLP was seeking 30% of the homes for affordable housing and a large proportion would be family sized homes with gardens. There was a lot of work to do on the planning proposal so actual numbers could not be stated at this time.
Councillor Johnson requested a personal explanation as his decision making in a previous planning committee had been referenced. The application in question was not a site allocated in the BLP and had been recommended for refusal by the planning officers. He had voted at that meeting with a high degree of integrity and in line with the principles of the planning panel. The two were not comparable cases.
Councillor Walters commented that the main reason that young people could not get on the housing ladder was that they were unable to get mortgages, not just the lack of housing being available.
Councillor Taylor referred to a press release from 31 July 1953 entitled ‘Action to Preserve Open Space’, which explained that with a bid of £12,100 the Mayor Councillor T. A. Stuchbery had bought Maidenhead Golf Course when it was offered for sale by auction, together with other lands of the Desborough Estate. The Mayor had bought the land to prevent it falling into the hands of those less concerned about its future than local people. The press release explained that if the council desired, it could buy the land from the Mayor at the sale price. Immediately after the meeting the council had made a commitment to buy the land. They had taken the view that the land was scheduled as an open space in the development plan and that public ownership was the best way of ensuring that it remained an open space. Lord Desborough wanted the land to be for the use of the public, for recreation and to preserve open space. The Mayor and the council in 1953 agreed. Nearly 70 years later the council wanted to dismiss the wishes of the council on behalf of local people.
Councillor Taylor commented that the proposals would have a devastating effect on the ecosystem of the site. Even with the greatest care animals would be displaced and habitats destroyed. Green spaces were disappearing at an alarming rate. She asked the council to look to help local residents now, not in the future.
Councillor Hill reiterated that the land had been bought by the borough for residents to enjoy as an open space. 4448 residents had signed the petition and this had been during a pandemic. If the petitioners had been able to knock on doors the number would have been much higher. Going against the wishes of the residents was undemocratic. The motion he had proposed was not about building a Great Park but about keeping a green lung. Councillor Hill stated that he took issue with the comments by the Head of Planning as on the council website there was a letter from the Inspector dated 13 July 2020 that said explicitly that the housing need had halved for the period 2013-2033 from over 12,000 to 6,382. The FOI requests he had raised showed that 6000 houses had already been built and a further 2380 dwellings had planning permission but were unimplemented.
Upon being put to the vote, the motion proposed by Councillor Hill and seconded by Councillor Taylor, fell.
The Mayor requested that Councillor Coppinger provide Members with information on the next steps with the BLP. Councillor Coppinger explained that the council had submitted answers to all the outstanding questions asked by the Inspector following the examination in public, and was therefore awaiting the initial report. Once received some time would be taken to fully understand it. A report would then be brought to full Council on any changes that were needed after going out to full consultation. The adoption of the plan would therefore likely be at the end of the calendar year.