Discussion over merging panels
ROYAL BOROUGH: Planning applications in Windsor could be decided by councillors in Maidenhead under plans being drawn up by the council.
On Tuesday, councillors are set to meet to discuss whether to merge the two development management committees – or planning panels – into a single, borough-wide body.
Two panels – one for Maidenhead and another for Windsor and Ascot – were formed by councillors in June last year after being merged due to fewer applications during the height of the pandemic.
Following the split, it was initially agreed that councillors could only sit on their respective panels.
This caused controversy in August, when objections were raised to three Conservative councillors substituting to decide the 80-home Ray Mill Road East application in Maidenhead, despite all three representing wards outside of the town.
The Deerswood Meadow application was withdrawn at that meeting, leaving members of the public furious after the delayed start of more than 40 minutes.
In November, councillors voted to amend the constitution to allow Maidenhead councillors to be named as substitutes on Windsor planning panels and vice versa.
The latest development in deciding developments will now see councillors discuss whether to merge the two panels into a borough-wide planning panel.
If approved, the new panel will consist of 13 members, as opposed to the nine that feature on the current development committees.
The report recommending the merger says a ‘single committee makes the most efficient use of council resources whilst reducing risk of inconsistent decision making’.
It adds that a merger would reduce the impact on officer time, as well as highlighting a reduction in cost due to the £6,355 special responsibility allowance for panel chairs.
Furthermore, it argues ‘the potential for lobbying is arguably greater with members who are ‘local’ to any application site’, and that there would be ‘no loss of local engagement on applications or ability to present views at the committee meetings’ with no proposed change to public speakers’ rights.
In response to the news, Maidenhead planning panel member Cllr Geoff Hill (tBF, Oldfield) said the report is of ‘great concern’ to him, whilst Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) said it seemed a single committee would put ‘inordinate pressure’ on councillors if the number of applications per meeting increased.
Chair of the Windsor planning panel Cllr David Cannon (Con, Datchet, Horton & Wraysbury) said he would not be supporting the paper.
“The majority of residents who we represent don’t want one panel and I agree,” said Cllr Cannon on social media.