A “FRUSTRATED” council leader said the Royal Borough is “paying the price” for adopting a major housing plan as the government is set to change targets.

Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams) has requested an urgent meeting with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) to see if it is possible to lower the council’s housing target, which is currently 14,240.

The Conservative-led Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) adopted its borough local plan (BLP) in February 2022, which earmarks multiple sites, including Green Belt land, for housing to meet its future population and economic growth by 2033.

It has proven to be a highly controversial decision, which resulted in two failed High Court challenges to overturn it, by opposition and campaigners who believe it is “environmental vandalism” and is not needed due to the 2012 population figures it was based on as being "outdated".

Slough Observer: The Maidenhead Golf Course, which is earmarked for 2,000 homes, has been the most controversial within the site allocationsThe Maidenhead Golf Course, which is earmarked for 2,000 homes, has been the most controversial within the site allocations (Image: LDRS)

However, the government of that time forced all local authorities to adopt local plans in order to hit the national target of 300,000 a year. But due to a fear of a Tory rebellion, DLUHC Secretary of State Michael Gove has decided to scrap that target and only make it an ‘advisory’.

This has prompted many local authorities, such as Wokingham Borough Council, to pause their BLP-making processes to try and seek a reduced housing target.

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Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Johnson said RBWM was effectively “paying the price” for abiding by the government’s instruction at that time. He is now seeking if the council can amend its housing figure and put more of an emphasis on placemaking and family housing as opposed to cramming in flats just to hit a target.

He said: “Had we been in a different place in our local plan when we were just about to go out to public examination and we finished all the pre-examination in public work, would I press the huge button that says pause? Actually, to be honest, I probably would, but given where we were 12 months ago and that none of this was seemingly on the table, we were compliant with national policy, we couldn’t demonstrate a five-year land supply, and we were at serious risk of developers bringing forward sites because we didn’t have an adopted local plan and we had very little pushback.

“Am I frustrated by it all? Absolutely I am because it’s not particularly fair that we played the game because we were told to do it whereas others who were not as advanced as us may get away with less housing as a result of changing legislation.”

READ MORE: "Flawed" Windsor & Maidenhead borough local plan adopted

However, it will be unlikely to remove sites from the BLP, such as the controversial Maidenhead Golf Course, but the council is seeking if it can deliver fewer homes and also seek to protect the Royal Borough’s commercial and employment space from being converted into residential.

The council leader also said it is an “opportunity” to speak to developers delivering homes in RBWM to bring forward less housing and deliver more family homes and a better emphasis on placemaking.

When asked about the timing of the letter, Cllr Johnson said it was only until December, 10 months after the BLP adoption, that it became apparent the government was seeking to amend its housing target.

READ MORE: Maidenhead Golf Club "in advanced talks" to buy nearby golf course

He said: “It felt an opportune moment to really lay down the marker to say that RBWM has a recently adopted local plan, albeit before the Levelling Up Regeneration Bill came forward.

“I don’t think even when adopted the local plan, the Levelling Up Regeneration Bill white paper was even published and there was never any indication the Secretary of State was minded to change course on housing numbers and targets. That is a very, very recent phenomena.”

DLUHC are yet to respond to Cllr Johnson’s letter, which was sent on Tuesday, February 28.