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Councillors clash over meeting frequency at marathon full council meeting

Councillors were divided over the frequency of their meetings and a new artisan street market could arrive in Maidenhead following another marathon full council meeting this week.

In a Zoom meeting that lasted nearly four hours on Tuesday night, Cllr Neil Knowles (OWRA, Old Windsor) proposed an amendment to the calendar of meetings, with the aim of establishing monthly full council meetings.

He argued that the council had a disrupted schedule meetings, due to COVID-19, and that they were going on for ‘far too long’.

Cllr Knowles added that this added to councillors’ ‘frustration’ and affected their ‘overall emotional state’.

He received support from 20 other members – including Conservative Boyn Hill councillor Stuart Carroll – but the rest of the Tory group voted against and his

motion was defeated by one vote.

Cllr Joshua Reynolds (Lib Dem, Furze Platt) said the late finishes were hard on the councillors who had other jobs.

“The latest full council meeting I have been in finished at 11.45pm, with many councillors like myself having full-time jobs outside of the council,” he said.

Council leader CllrAndrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams), defended his party’s view by announcing that he would be holding an extraordinary meeting of the full council in September.

This meeting will debate proposals over the future of the Maidenhead Community Centre, which is in doubt amid the town’s impending York Road regeneration.

A petition has been set up to stop the centre’s move to an ‘inadequate’ temporary space at the Desborough Suite, in the town hall; it needs 1,500 signatures to be debated by council.

Cllr Johnson said: “I have been lobbied by numerous residents, and we are certainly not waiting for the petition to get all of its signatures to take action.

“I have listened, I have heard the views of people who have signed it.

“I would like to reassure that a long-term solution was already in progress, but I do like to accelerate things.”

He added on Cllr Knowles’ motion: “We will not be able to support this motion.

“Strange as it may seem, in terms of council meetings held this year, we are about even on where we would normally be in terms of catching up on missed meetings.

“We are actually perversely at a monthly rate.”

A motion from Cllr Helen Taylor (TBF, Oldfield), proposed a new artisan street market which was voted through unanimously.

Councillors agreed the possibility to pursue a market focused on craft items, with small businesses from around the borough taking part.

“There is enough space for social distancing and being outside gives shoppers confidence, whilst creating unique shopping opportunities to bring people back to our town centre,” Cllr Taylor said.

Also at the meeting, a Maidenhead town council was not ruled out.

Windsor could be edging closer to its own town council after councillors gave the green light for a community governance review at the Zoom meeting this week.

In response, Cllr David Coppinger (Con, Bray), lead member for Maidenhead, said he hopes for a similar path in his area.

He said: “I hope in due course I will be sitting in this room and making a similar presentation about Maidenhead, so watch this space, and lets learn the lessons first.”

Also approved at the meeting was to establish an independent group called the Audit and Governance Committee.

This was one of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s (CIPFA’s) recommendations in its final report on the council’s financial arrangements.

It is hoped that the new committee will take the pressure off the Overview and Scrutiny Panel, and will be chaired by Cllr Christine Bateson (Con, Sunningdale and Cheapside) and vice-chaired by opposition councillor Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor), who said she was ‘pleased this is happening’.

Council leader Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) added: “It was clear from reading the CIPFA report that this was one of their key recommendations and my own private view before the decision was taken, before my time as a councillor, was that, with hindsight, it was not the wisest thing to do away with a separate audit committee.”

He said that the committee will ‘robustly hold us to account’.

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