Emails show what went into building Maidenhead’s 80 house plan
EMAILS between council bosses and planning officers reveal what happened before a controversial decision to build 80 homes locally.
Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con: Cox Green), Senior Member for Housing Opportunity, was found to have discredited his role and the council after he and fellow Tory councilors on the November Maidenhead Planning Committee endorsed the plan of CALA Homes to build 80 homes on Deerswood Meadow.
They liked the supply of affordable housing by nearly 50% despite serious concerns raised by planning officers about flooding and its impact on open space. CALA Homes has since withdrawn its plans.
Cllr McWilliams was found guilty of failing to make it clear at the meeting that he spoke favorably of the program’s affordable housing offering as a lead housing member rather than a panel member, which resulted in potentially led to the perception that he was publicly expressing support for the plans.
No sanctions were imposed by the committee as they believed his actions were “the likely result of his passion and enthusiasm for providing affordable housing in the borough rather than intentional deception.” Cllr McWilliams resigned from the planning committee in January.
However, in a leaked report into Cllr McWilliams’ conduct, there’s an infamous paragraph that says he, along with council leader Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams), emailed the chief planning officer. Adrien Waite that they were “very excited” for CALA Homes’ plans to be approved.
READ MORE: Maidenhead senior adviser told not to vote on Deerswood Meadow plans
According to the report, Mr Waite alerted watchdog Emma Duncan to the email and advised Cllr McWilliams to exclude himself from the vote given his past support for the scheme, which he ignored.
Cllrs McWilliams and Johnson both said it was ‘factually incorrect’, adding that they were seeking clarification of the risk of flooding and asking all members of the planning committee to inquire about the measures to flood mitigation and its complexities.
Following an access to information request made by the Local Democracy Information Service, here is what was said in the emails.
On November 15, 2021, just two days before the planning meeting in question, Cllr McWilliams asked if the panel members were willing to approve the program, against the agents’ recommendations, and how would they do so.
However, he stressed that he came to the panel with an open mind but wanted to be “prepared as much as possible”.
Mr Waite said in response that it would be ‘dangerous’ for committee members to disagree with the advice of one of the statutory consultants, the Environment Agency (EA), which is a government-appointed flood advisory board and has raised serious concerns about flooding at the site.
He wrote: “Indeed, the committee should approach the request from the perspective that there are responses that must be considered and that any identified risks, issues or policy conflicts are real. It would be quite dangerous, in terms of informed decision-making, to seek to ignore or try to undermine the technical expertise of those consulted (e.g. for a member trying to say that there is no problem flood risk).
He added that the proposal would increase the risk of flooding for nearby residents due to the lack of flood compensation and the impeding of water flows and the failure to provide safe access and egress by flooding, which would increase pressure on emergency services.
READ MORE: Contentious Maidenhead 80 house plan suddenly withdrawn
In emails months before the controversial planning committee, Cllrs McWilliams and Johnson asked Executive Director of Venue Services Andrew Durrant if a dedicated app briefing could be arranged.
Cllr McWilliams said there was a need to clarify the risk of flooding at the site, as councilors were concerned at a previous meeting in February 2020, where a similar program at the site had been refused, that the people would “drown” if development happened on the site.
He also said the risk of flooding does not say so and another app very close to the site said the project could go ahead subject to details of flood resistance and resilience measures via a condition.
Cllr Johnson chimed in, saying: ‘Given the complexity of this site and app, I don’t understand why the candidate should not be allowed to offer a briefing to committee members on his agenda.’
Cllr McWilliams wrote on June 21, 2021: “The scheme is obviously complex because members misunderstood EA’s position despite the claimant explaining that the site would go dry in a centennial event.
“By the way, I went through the recording of the meeting and did not detect that the planning officers corrected the members when they said that lives would be endangered.
“I receive emails daily from residents who are in desperate need of housing assistance because for decades we have not built enough affordable, city-owned properties. It would be a great shame for a program affordable housing at 45% fails again due to misunderstanding around flood advice.
Mr Durrant said an additional planning briefing was outside the standard process and felt the complexity surrounding flooding issues could be adequately managed through the normal process of technical briefings before the meeting and at the committee. planning.
What did the opposition advisers say?
Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem: Belmont), who was a voting member of the November planning committee and was one of 20 complainants, said there was something “very wrong” with the meeting and that Cllr McWilliams “was at the heart of it”.
He and the Maidenhead Lib Dems were ‘relieved’ Cllr McWilliams was found guilty of discrediting his role and the board and called on Cllr Johnson to sack his cabinet member. Cllr McWilliams has rejected calls to resign.
READ MORE: Maidenhead councilor rejects calls for resignation
Cllr Baldwin said the emails between advisers and officers ‘paint an even more troubling picture’ and called for the vital email sent by Cllr McWilliams on or before November 12, 2021 to Mr Waite asking that the application is approved for publication. .
According to Cllr Baldwin, this is the email that Emma Duncan was referring to when she advised Cllr McWilliams to exclude himself from the vote.
He said he was still being held “without any legitimate reason”. He and the residents will continue to press council to release this message in the public domain.