CONTROVERSIAL plans to scrap two planning panels and replace it with an overseeing panel has been heavily criticised by Windsor resident.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) currently has two development management panels which both meet once a month – but it is proposed to replace them with the Royal Borough Development Management Panel which will also meet once a month.

In a report to be presented to full council on May 26, it says this move will save RBWM £6,107 per year and would allow decision-making to continue virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is proposed that councillor Phil Haseler (Conservative: Cox Green), who is currently the chairman for the Maidenhead Development Management Panel, will lead the new panel.

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The Windsor Development Management Panel and Maidenhead Development Management Panel have a total of 11 councillors whereas the proposed panel will only have six.

Four will be Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and one Independent.

If approved, the council will review this decision in December this year as to whether they will carry it on to the next year.

Richard Endacott, Chairman of the West Windsor Residents Association, said he will call on the leader of the council, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley and Walthams), to expedite the formation of a Windsor Town Council for locals to have a voice in any major planning applications if the motion carries.

He said: “Local knowledge is essential when debating planning applications, this move which includes preventing ward councillors from calling in planning applications from other wards, disenfranchises local people in local decision making processes and threatens unwanted development in areas which panel members have little or no knowledge.

“Recently the Royal Borough has successfully trialled the use of video technology for meetings which has seen an increase in local engagement and aims to improve participation levels, surely this technology could be harnessed to make the existing development panels both cost effective and improve engagement in local planning matters?”

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Councillor Haseler said: “I think the key thing here, from my perspective, is that we get the planning process back up and running because the last few months have just been the head of planning determining planning applications with very little input from councillors.

“If I am to be chairman of the Royal Borough Management Development Panel, I will ensure that whoever is on that panel – which I might not a have say in this probably – will make objective planning decisions based on evidence and policy."

Cllr Haseler acknowledged fears raised about the lack of local knowledge – but said the panel can overcome this by site visits, listening and reading the evidence set before them and raising questions and issue to the planning officer.

He added: “I know what they’re saying about the loss of the two panels for a one borough panel – but other boroughs and councils across the country only have one planning panel and their area might be larger than us or comparable.”

The first meeting of the new panel could be scheduled on June 17.