As we look to the future, I have reflected back on the highlights and lowlights of the past year, below is a list of memorable moments, not in chronological order:
- Efforts to Save Garden Centre
- Conversations with the Inspector Regarding the Borough Local Plan
- Selling Plots of Land Around West Windsor
- Understanding Local Ecology
- Cleaning Up Sutherland Grange
- Asking Financial Questions that Resulted in CIPFA’s Wholesale Financial Improvements
- Vice Chair of Infrastructure
- Improving the Pavements & Highways
- Fighting for FREE Parking at Christmas
- Rudolph Lights the Way
- 2021 Begins…
Efforts to Save Garden Centre
WWRA had promised to do our best to save the Garden Centre and if an Independent Council had been declared after the election we would have looked for RBWM to finance the purchase of the land. Here’s how that might have come about.
By including both garden centres in the Borough Local Plan (BLP) they become potential sites for new homes.
In simple terms, the process works like this:
- Councils create building land by including plots in BLPs and releasing them from the Green Belt.
- The land is given a listing in the proposed BLP with a proforma (list) of what might go there, subject to planning applications.
- The BLP is put to a referendum and voted on by the residents.
- Since a site is a page in a 400 page document that is only really of interest to the local residents and not the whole borough, the document which has gone through many rounds of consultation over years, as a whole is likely to get voted through.
- Sites can then be easily released via the planning process and turned into housing estates.
- This increases the land value, say 10 fold, as builders start buying up the land from the current owners.
- Big companies may be invited, or try to work closely with councils in the early days, while the BLPs are being compiled, to “smooth” things on their way.
On the old Squires Garden Centre site, Bewley Homes PLC and Square Bay (No5) LLP have put in a couple of applications but you can see from Companies House that Square Bay (No5) LLP is a company with 16 active “officers” made up companies from around the world with many, many more “officers”.
So when residents suggest on Facebook that the old Squires site could be turned into a coffee house then the fact there are many investors makes it very unlikely this will happen.
At the time of the election, had we become an Independent Council, through a coalition of Lib Dem & Independents, then there could have been discussions around removing many of the circa 14,000 proposed homes and therefore site allocations.
Removing HA11 (now AL21 & 22) from the BLP would have meant that Wates probably would not have been interested in buying the land when the original Garden Centre got into trouble and there could have been a very real conversation about RBWM buying it as a going concern and using it as a community facility for helping many local people into work.
That wasn’t what happened. The Conservatives retained a small majority and therefore AL21 & 22 remain in the BLP for now.
At the planning meeting where ALDI was voted through Cllr Da Costa and myself made representations to refuse but it was passed. You can watch the video of the full hearing for the garden centre below… I present at 2:55:30 and Wisdom follows me…
The final decisions on sites and allocations in the BLP will be made soon by the Inspector.
Conversations with the Inspector Regarding the Borough Local Plan
The Garden Centre is a small part of an area in the Borough Local Plan that is called AL21 and will, if the Inspector gives the approval, become 450 homes, a Special Educational Needs School and more, download the BLP submission BLPSV-PC-003 and read page 269.
I made strong representations, along with others, to the Inspector asking for AL21 to be removed from the BLP and she’ll be reporting back to RBWM in the near future.
Selling Plots of Land Around West Windsor
Residents’ approached me regarding concerns about sections of Hemwood Dell being auctioned to the highest bidder, I contacted various officers ensuring their concerns were addressed and reassurance provided.
More recently a number of plots have been released by owners via auction sites which is a rather underhand and misleading practice by those involved. RBWM has many protections in place, residents shouldn’t worry, simply read the RBWM advice which can be found via this page.
Understanding Local Ecology
Jason Mills, RBWM Countryside Manager, did some follow up work on the importance of the Dell as part of the local ecology which was shared with interested residents.
Enjoy this video of Jason talking about wild orchids to be found at Sutherland Grange.
Cleaning Up Sutherland Grange
Sutherland Grange “recycling” bins were a problem for years with tons of non recyclable waste being dumped and it took much longer than we would have liked to have the bins removed. These delays, for no good reason, cost RBWM residents tens of thousands of pounds.
Today the area is very clean and tidy with a couple of clothing bins supporting Thames Valley Hospice and the contractor takes time to clean up excess waste when collecting clothes 3x a week, saving residents money.
Asking Financial Questions that Resulted in CIPFA’s Wholesale Financial Improvements
A Councillor needs to have a general understanding of finance and after doing some research I asked questions at Full Council. The result of this was the MD called CIPFA in and they asked more questions around the budget lines relating to Clewer & Dedworth and there have been significant changes, not only in the finance management team at RBWM but also in how financial information is shared and the finances are managed.
Download the Deloitte RBWM Finance Audit Year Ending 31st March 2019.
Vice Chair of Infrastructure
As Vice Chair of the Infrastructure Overview & Scrutiny Panel I am keen to see the RBWM evolve its infrastructure in a way that benefits residents but we need to ask important questions about which technologies that are deployed.
For instance, some residents have concerns about 5G, others can’t wait for it to be deployed. Both RBWM and residents need to understand the full impact of these new technologies through asking questions and reviewing the experiences of other councils.
You can review recent meetings of the Infrastructure O&S here to get an idea of the areas we cover.
Improving the Pavements & Highways
If residents keep me posted on highway issues I can work with officers to fix most problems. Please use the Report It function on the website for most problems but I am always available if you are struggling to get a response. I find pot holes tend to get filled within a few days of reporting them.
If you have something you think needs tweaking in Clewer & Dedworth West then let me know and we can explore the options. One resident contacted me in the spring about the tarmac at Burnham Close which needed re-doing after a shoddy job last year and this was successfully relayed by the contractor just before Christmas. Another resident pointed out a footpath up Wolf Lane that hadn’t been maintained for years, missed off previous highways plans, it was incorporated and the necessary repairs made within a couple of months.
Fighting for FREE Parking at Christmas
Covid has not just taken lives, it has damaged and destroyed businesses to a whole new level.
Brian from Snappy Snaps approached me to discuss how we, the council, might improve the footfall in Windsor as many businesses were having to close. We decided that probably the best way to get the council’s attention was for him to create a petition, garnering the support of residents, asking for FREE Parking over Christmas, the busiest time for retailers in a normal year.
I followed this up with a Motion calling for an extra 3 hours parking on Monday and Tuesday mornings at Full Council which failed to get overall support but we tried. Watch how that rolled out above…
What it reinforced to me was the fact that the Conservatives always follow the party line decided by the leader and a handful of lead officers reflecting on discussions with CCHQ rather than the local needs of residents.
Rudolph Lights the Way
The Garden Centre sponsored Christmas decorations at All St Church and Sutherland Grange in West Windsor this year. I hope you and yours enjoyed Rudolph welcoming folk to Windsor along Maidenhead Road 😉
It’s been a tough year, COVID has changed everyone’s world including my own. After running my own business for many years, I find myself back working for a large organisation, creating a level of stability for me and my family. I am really enjoying working on the checkouts at Tesco, talking to residents and offering support as necessary.
There are likely to be many consultations coming our way over the coming year, one of which is likely to be asking if residents are in favour of a referendum relating to the council tax. RBWM has huge pressure on it financially and the reality is there is only one fix for the medium term.
Short term, the budget proposal for next year shows a £300k reduction in the budget for Community Wardens. I am currently talking to officers about how we can find the shortfall, this team of 18 wardens have done amazing front line work during COVID, including losing two of their number and reducing this service doesn’t sit comfortably with me on a number of levels…
There is also a proposal to generate revenues from “rural” car parks and Clewer Memorial Park has been identified as a potential source of £6,000 a year from its 50 parking spaces. The suggestion is for 30 mins to be free, 1 hr £1, 2 hrs £2, over 2 hours £5. I’m discussing the proposal with those directly impacted by the charges and will form my position based on this feedback.
I’ll be working closely with officers and the Lead Member on Infrastructure. Having good rapport with most officers and many Councillors, enables me to have good honest, open debate around key topics. Holding the administration to account in the council chamber and communicating via email to those concerned ensuring the best interests of residents, in my view, are represented.
Social media, while useful for getting messages out, can also be the source of negativity. I’ll be engaging less on social media in 2021.
If you would like to communicate with me about things relating to Clewer & Dedworth West then please email me at email@example.com or phone 07717 820823.