Oakley Green, Fifield and District Community Association Ltd
Relief after last minute rescue
by Rod Lord - 17.02.2009
 show picture    Projected in the Council Chamber during Robin Howard's oration

Residents and users of Coningsby Lane in Fifield have had a frustrating time over recent months in their efforts to resist a planning application that threatened to remove twenty feet or more of hedgerow and fill the ditch with a twenty-three foot stretch of concrete over a new culvert.

After very strong local opposition and rejection by the Parish Council it was revealed that planners at the Royal Borough still intended to approve the initial application which was withdrawn at the last minute. An amended application was then immediately resubmitted.

Local residents and users of the lane were puzzled by the fact that a very similar application for a new access in Paley Street had been rejected by planners on the grounds that it would be detrimental to the rural character of the area. Paley Street is a more open two-track road with fairly constant traffic while Coningsby Lane is a quiet single track rural lane used by horse riders, cyclists and walkers with children and dogs. There was serious concern at such blatant planning inconsistency in the Royal Borough.

An objector said "At the very least we would expect planning guidelines to be applied in such a way that they are seen to be consistent. The recent survey carried out in Oakley Green and Fifield achieved a 73% response rate with 300 households placing the maintenance of the rural character very high on their wish list and their reason for wanting to live in the area."

In Coningsby Lane the rural character is not the only issue. There is an existing access which has been in use for decades in a part of the lane not subject to flooding. The new access is proposed at the precise location where in times of heavy rain the ditch spills onto the lane resulting in regular flooding that has in the recent past caused water and sewage damage. There are also large oak trees nearby that carry Tree Preservation Orders and the Tree Section of the Community Services Unit warned that there was potential for damage to these if approval was granted.

The main reason given as a motive for moving the access at all was improved road safety. Measurements and photographic evidence were submitted to prove that this was simply not supportable. As it was clear that none of the stated reasons were credible there was also widespread suspicion as to the long term motive or agenda particularly in the light of previous withdrawn applications by the same agent for the same site.

Opposition from residents and users of the lane was so strong that a petition with 121 signatures was submitted in the hope that planners and councillors would at last take notice. Fifteen local residents turned out for a local press photograph with the petition.

The Planning Officer still recommended approval but the application was called before the Maidenhead Development Control Panel for February 24. During the weekend preceding the panel meeting a nine page discussion document with photographs was distributed to all eleven councillors on the panel along with copies of the petition.

At 7 pm on the evening of the hearing 22 objectors from Fifield entered the Council Chamber and had to wait till 10.30 pm to be heard. Grenville Annetts spoke for 2 minutes to present the Parish Council's recommendation for refusal and Robin Howard spoke for 3 minutes on behalf of the objectors. By far the two most eloquent pieces of oratory of the whole night these had a noticeable effect on the councillors and seemed to resurrect them from the tedium of the previous three and a half hours.

During the debate that followed it became obvious that councillors had actually taken the time to absorb the material distributed to them and it was not long before a vote of 10 to zero (with one abstention) rejected the application.

Just before 11 pm objectors left the Town Hall in a state of euphoria. As the news spread to the many who had been unable to attend there was widespread relief expressed at the last minute rescue by a democratic decision from the rubber stamp of a single official. Gratitude was also expressed to the councillors who spoke against approval and proposed and seconded the motion.

It is of course quite possible that the application will now go to appeal but the residents and users of Coningsby Lane can at least take advantage of a respite to catch their breath before possibly having to take once more to the barricades !

  view the discussion document - PDF 1.5 Mb