A COUNCILLOR has claimed Royal Borough residents feel decisions on major planning applications are “pre-determined” by members.

At a Maidenhead town forum on Tuesday, January 11, head of planning Adrien Waite gave a presentation on what planning is and what the process is when it comes to determining applications.

When it was opened up to questions, councillor John Baldwin (Lib Dem: Belmont) said his email inbox is “dominated” by planning decision concerns in regard to the decision-making and the process.

The meeting heard councillors received a “strongly worded” memo from chief executive Duncan Sharkey, making it clear planning decisions need to be “seen to be fair”.

Slough Observer: Cllr John Baldwin speaking at a previous meetingCllr John Baldwin speaking at a previous meeting

Cllr Baldwin said: “Residents are now extremely concerned that – in light of recent events in particular – there’s a perception that we really lost our way, and our planning panels are no longer those forums of open-minded individuals to turn up to the meeting and make a deliberation based on the evidence that’s before them.

“In fact, many residents believe that the decisions that we take are pre-determined long before those meetings take place.”

He added: “It is something the residents’ feedback to me on a regular basis on and it’s a very serious problem. So serious in fact that the chief executive felt the need to write the memo I referred to.”

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But Mr Waite said there is “nothing unfair” in the planning process, saying panel members annual training on how planning matters should be determined and declaring interests in applications under the code of conduct.

Councillors are also given briefings before the meeting for officers to answer and clarify any technical questions.

Mr Waite said: “There’s certainly nothing unfair in the process in the way the borough determines its planning applications and the way we get to the outcomes is very transparent.”

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The head of planning “reassured” councillors that every comment received are looked at and considered by planning officers. He also said residents and developers will have differing views on the planning system based on their experiences and the outcomes of certain applications.

In terms of the letter from the chief executive, Mr Waite believed the memo’s content was merely “seeking to remind” councillors of the way that planning matters should be considered and determined.