Controversial plans for Maidenhead town centre homes refused

MAIDENHEAD 133750-3

The Crescent, Maidenhead

Councillors shut down plans for three new homes on a controversial piece of Maidenhead land last week, citing overdevelopment concerns.

Members on the Maidenhead area planning committee met on Wednesday last week to discuss plans for three family homes - two three-bed and one detached four-bed - on land adjacent to The Crescent, put forward by Churchgate Premier Homes. 

Planning officers were happy with what they saw and had recommended councillors approve the application - but this was voted down as concerns were raised over the impact the new development would have on the appearance of the area, as well as the fear of setting a precedent for future, larger building work on the site.

The site is a controversial one having been the subject of previous applications. In the main, these have previously been refused by the council and in one case in July last year, plans for nine apartments were dismissed at appeal.

However, officers advised councillors that despite being dismissed, this previous appeal decision 'set the parameters' in terms of layout and scale of development that would be acceptable on the site.

It was also noted that a recent application for two homes at this location have been approved in May. 

This is not the only time that The Crescent has been in the news, with residents in the street raising concerns back in October of the ecological impact the development would have on species (below). 

Churchgate responded by saying that they wanted to avoid the site becoming another attraction for criminals, with the 'overgrown' site harbouring 'drug paraphernalia' upon clearance. 

Introducing the application to the planning meeting, planning officer Tony Franklin said: "When having regard to the proposals contribution to the housing supply within the borough, and its effective use of land in a sustainable location, the harm arising from the proposal would not significantly outweigh these benefits."

While officers admitted that the proposed three car parking spaces do not meet the council's official standards, they were confident that this would not lead to problematic on-street parking nearby.

But the application received strong backlash from the Friends of the Crescent Residents Association, with group member Paul Ringer fearing the worst should the plans go through.

"The site has a long and sorry planning history," he said. "It is clear that residents will accept a well thought out scheme of one or two houses, but the overdevelopment that this causes leads to significant anxiety and opens the door back for the nine flats.

"Your officer states that the proposed layout of the development would be more cramped, resulting in a pattern of development that is out of character. We agree.

"Although the report says this has been considered in the planning balance, it has not been, and residents are of the view that the scheme needs to be refused on this basis alone.

"90 per cent of the people here are from the area, your highways officer objects to the scheme, your tree officer objects, and your residents object. And we ask you please to humour us and object as well."

Mr Ringer added that the footprint and density of the proposed new homes was 'out of keeping' with the surrounding area, and said that its contribution to the housing supply in the Royal Borough would be 'extremely limited', as it is only one house more than what has previously been approved.

Speaking in favour of the scheme, applicant Matt Taylor praised the development for providing 'well designed' family homes close to Maidenhead town centre.

He said: "We have had consent for two larger houses, and we feel this makes an appropriate balance between the two. It achieves three well designed family houses within walking distance to the train station and town centre, the ideal site for a very modest scheme in my opinion.

"It's not a greedy scheme, its not over-zealous, and we do feel that it will really complement the area."

But ward councillor Donna Stimson (Con, St Mary's) - who was sitting on the panel but did not vote on this item due to conflicting interests - was worried that this development could lead to other schemes coming forward, adding she also had concerns over the impact on wildlife.

"One of the things we are worried about is much higher density of housing will come forward," Cllr Stimson said. "We like the two-house scheme, but this has a much larger footprint and we are worried it may lead to a taller nine-flat scheme."

Cllr Stimson also said that she has been called to the development site on numerous occasions recently, where there have been 'men with [grass] strimmers swearing at me', adding she has even had to resort to calling the police during some visits. 

"They have bought bigger pieces of equipment than they were allowed, they have broken the environmental rules. I know we have to only consider this application, but there is form with these builders," she said.

Cllr Stimson also said that there was tension regarding an ewe tree on the site, subject to a Tree Protection Order (TPO), which she said had been 'removed by developers and not replaced' as required. 

"The replacement ewe that was required to be planted is actually where the third property is [in these plans]," Cllr Stimson added.

Mr Taylor had earlier said that this particular ewe tree fell naturally 'a long time ago' before his involvement on the site. 

Lib Dem councillor John Baldwin raised a motion to go against planning officers' recommendations and refuse the plans, based on concerns regarding overdevelopment and the impact on the area's appearance and character.

This was seconded by his party colleague Mandy Brar (Bisham & Cookham). 

Every councillor bar one - Cllr Geoff Hill (TBF, Oldfield), who voted against - went for the motion, which ultimately saw the plans refused. 

Also discussed at last week's meeting were plans for new flats above Poundstretcher in Maidenhead high street, while a major application for 80 homes in Ray Mill Road East were withdrawn at late notice, leaving many residents who had travelled to the meeting to discuss this frustrated. 

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