The "Great Debate":
Early in 2006, the Council sought residents’ views on the future of Maidenhead outlined in its “Vision for the Royal Borough”.
This Core Strategy document is at the heart of the Local Development Framework (LDF) which will replace the Local Plan. “It is,” says RBWM, “the overarching document which sets out the vision for the Borough over the next 15 to 20 years and how spatial planning will contribute towards achieving the vision.”
The council’s consultation began on January 27th 2006 and ran for six weeks. The Council was obliged to consult but previous documents had been couched in language and style that all but the most dedicated planning devotee would find virtually impenetrable. The Civic Society, concerned that this would put people off, lobbied hard for the LDF documentation to be more accessible and for the council to encourage people to get involved. This led to a great improvement.
The importance of public involvement was also behind “The Great Debate”, our initiative with the Maidenhead Advertiser to get people talking about the future of our town – and to get the council to take notice.
It’s true that the Great Debate contained a fair amount of criticism but it’s also true that it had a lot which was positively constructive too, much of it from individuals, as well as the ideas and suggestions from ourselves in the Civic Society and the Chamber of Commerce. Council leader Mary-Rose Gliksten, lead member for planning Vicky Howes and Tory leader David Burbage were among the council members to give us their views. We commissioned a piece from town planning expert Joe Doak from Reading University who cut through the complexity of the LDF process to tell Maidonians, effectively, ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ and there were similar messages from Theresa May MP and RBWM Chief Executive David Lunn who exhorted people to make their views known. Said Lunn: “This (LDF) is about what people want their community to feel like and be like.” Our thanks go to everyone who took part and the Advertiser for their generous cooperation.
As well as raising public awareness, we were also keen that the Debate should inspire some imaginative and inventive thinking. The Chamber of Commerce opened in spades with their detailed and sometimes controversial plans for revitalising retail; and Peter Prior got everyone talking with his scheme for a York Stream marina by Chapel Arches.
The Society restated its ambitions, first set out in the Strategic Review, and we’re delighted to see that three of them – an integrated transport hub, a specific policy for the Thames “corridor” and the regeneration of the town centre – are well reflected in the Council’s new Core Strategy proposals. But these are broad-brush strokes at the moment, it’s still early days and we need to keep plugging away.