PETITIONERS are demanding the Royal Borough re-establish two planning panels so councillors with local knowledge don’t ‘second-guess’ decisions on developments elsewhere.

In a controversial move in May 2020, the first peak of the pandemic, the ruling Conservatives voted in favour to scrap the two separate Windsor and Maidenhead development management panels for a single borough-wide one with nine voting members.

Before Covid-19 struck, the Royal Borough use to have a panel for Windsor and another for Maidenhead – but, as meetings moved to online, they were merged into one as it would allow decision-making on applications to continue virtually throughout the pandemic with fewer chances of the Zoom meeting going wrong, such as someone dropping out.

However, as lockdown eases and face-to-face meetings are returning, campaigners have set up a petition calling for the council to re-establish the two separate planning panels with nine voting members sitting on each.

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Windsor resident John Webb, the petitioner, said: “We’re now moving back to actual face-to-face meetings and I think it is now time to get back to how it used to be where you can have local people making local decisions about local issues.

“This is a prime example of this where you’ll get the actual local knowledge of the local councillors having a valuable input rather than having somebody from Maidenhead second-guessing what’s going on in the depths of Windsor.”

In response, the lead member for planning, councillor David Coppinger (Con: Bray), said he has formed a working group consisting of borough and parish councillors to consider changing back to two panels.

They have one last meeting to finalise their input before a final decision is made.

He said: “Members must make their decisions based on planning law and not on local views or beliefs even if this means they disappoint their residents.

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“Local knowledge can be useful and what really helps planners is if this knowledge is fed into the initial stages of the work they undertake.

“The only borough in Berkshire with two panels is West Berkshire but that is driven by geography as they have a land area over three times the size of RBWM.

“Planning decisions must be made following planning law otherwise all that ends up is unnecessary appeals by developers.

“I will of course take notice of the petitioner’s views but my recommendation will be based on what is right for the borough in its legal duties as a planning authority.”

The petition has, so far, accumulated nearly 100 signatures and can be found here: https://petitions.rbwm.gov.uk/Planlocal/