Press Release Archive:

Furze Platt School move raises big questions for Maidenhead (April 2012)

At the end of last month the government published its new planning guidelines in the National Planning Policy Framework. The print on the policy has hardly dried when Maidenhead is presented with a planning dilemma.
Maidenhead Civic Society had contributed to the consultation on the new guidelines. One of the Society's prime concerns was that the policies could trigger an avalanche of "sustainable" schemes that would progressively encroach on land designated as Green Belt.
The proposed scheme for the relocation of Furze Platt Senior School and the construction of 700 new homes has brought a storm of protest, although the details have not been spelt out. Any observations on the proposals must be based on the written submissions circulated by the School, their partners Summerleaze Ltd., and their Planning Consultants, Barton Willmore.
They make a case for a relocation into modern, purpose built, eco-friendly accommodation on land at Spencers Farm in North Town. The School recently acquired Academy status, which enables it to operate in entrepreneurial mode - outside the constraints of the local authority. However, there must be concerns at how this scheme is to be funded. 380 homes are proposed for the vacated site,and 320 are to be built alongside the new school at Spencers Farm. A total of 700 homes will be added to this area of North Maidenhead, within one mile of the 500 or so properties already underway at Boulters Meadow (Badnells Pit).
The ownership, status and planning designation of the existing Furze Platt Senior School site are unclear. What is clear is that this scheme is only viable on the basis of developer driven increase in land values and the construction of 700 homes. Spencers Farm is currently Green Belt. The site is bounded by a stretch of the flood relief channel called Maidenhead Ditch which is designated a wild life refuge by RBWM, the site is crossed by one popular local footpath and a proposed section of the Millenium Walk and includes an area liable to flood. Its value would soar if permission were granted for the new school and 320 houses.
The advocates put forward three main justifications for the project in their submission:
- The need for improved school buildings in view of the deteriorating state of the current structures and lack of adequate funding.
- The belief that Spencers Farm is more "sustainable" than other Green Belt and the presumption that it can be traded against other newly identified Green Belt areas. It is stated that only half of the 20 hectares will be built upon - the rest (playing fields, etc) remaining Green Belt - and as the RBWM had identified (in March 2009) an additional 56 hectares of land for potential Green Belt designation there will be no "net loss" within the Borough.
- The long-term housing requirements of the Borough indicate a need for housing on the scale proposed. The South East Plan identified the need for 346 dwellings per annum for the next 20 years. This proposal will help achieve whatever target is established as a result of the Core Strategy Review.
Commenting on the proposals Martin McNamee (Chair of MCS Planning Group) said: "This particular initiative is an early manifestation of the feared consequences of a pro-growth planning climate. Of course there is a need for more housing and improved education facilities. But we also have to consider the character and environment of where we live, and the impact of these developments on the wider infrastructure - health services and hospitals, water and waste, policing and traffic management. For example, a major issue would be the access arrangements to the proposed sites but these are not made clear in the outline submissions. "The regular trading of one area of Green Belt against another is a likely consequence of the lighter-touch planning regulations now in place. So the Spencers Farm scheme and similar proposals in future will see swathes of the green buffer around the town under continual threat. "This is the time for RBWM to use its 'vanguard authority' in the new neighbourhood planning process to demonstrate how it will deal with the many other cases that are bound to follow."