Annual General Meeting

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The Forum is required by its Constitution to hold an Annual General Meeting by end-June. The plan is to do this remotely, but first we must ask permission of the Forum's members and give 14 days notice.  Members are being contacted by email and, subject to their support, the AGM will be held on Monday 11th May 2020.

Agenda

  1. To confirm that the AGM may be conducted remotely and by proxy
  2. To hear the Chair's Report
  3. To accept the accounts
  4. To appoint members of the management committee.

The Chairman's Report is available below.  It provides an honest assessment of the Forum's activities during 2019-20 and should help inform how the Forum proceeds in 2020-21.

The draft accounts are available to view here:  2019-20 Accounts.

The Forum has three officer roles and can have a management team of between 5 and 10 overall.  We have received the following nominations so far and nominations are still open until the day of meeting (11th May).  We very much encourage members to step forward.

Chair Ian Rose, Andrew Ingram (as co-chairs)
Treasurer Bob Beauchamp
Secretary Andy Woodcock
Other management Martin McNamee, David Dyer, Mark Fessey, Judith Littlewood

The candidates

Andrew Ingram

Andrew Ingram is standing for co-Chair with Ian Rose.

Andrew has lived in Boyn Hill, Maidenhead since 2011. He is a Trustee of Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group. He joined the Forum in 2019, and was deeply involved in the design of the MNF surveys.

Andrew’s background is mainly in marketing and communications, in the national press and commercial radio industries. This means he has an active interest in harnessing the power of social media, both to gauge public opinion and to communicate effectively with large numbers of local people who would otherwise be hard to reach.

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Ian Rose is offering to stand as co-Chair, jointly with Andrew Ingram. He recognises that there are a range of skills required, and doesn't claim to have all of them, hence the proposal for leadership with co-chairs. This model has also been used successfully in the Windsor Neighbourhood Plan.

Ian has been the editor of the Neighbourhood Plan draft during the phase when we were working jointly with Cox Green, and before that led the "Green and Blue" topic group (Green infrastructure and waterways) in an earlier phase. He is a member of the Civic Society Planning group, Maidenhead Waterways and Wild Maidenhead. Helped by the Civic Society, he was also involved in the designation of the Furze Platt Conservation Area in 2011.

Ian is aware that there are hurdles ahead of us, not least a second attempt to achieve designation for the group by RBWM. This will be a challenge, but a necessary step to turn ideas into policy, within the allowed scope of a Neighbourhood Plan and the Borough's BLP.

Bob Beauchamp

Bob Beauchamp is standing for Treasurer.

Born in Bristol, Bob went to the local comprehensive school and then studied chemistry at Exeter University. He now lives in the Riverside ward of Maidenhead and has done so for 25 years. Prior to that, he lived for 17 years in Windsor.

He has always been interested in local politics and the development of the local community plans and facilities. He is a member of the Maidenhead Civic Society. Although, he has no formal qualifications in accountancy, he has run his own business for many years, firstly as a boatman taking people on weekends away on a traditional sailing boat and then as a health and safety consultant. Both involved much bookkeeping and dealings with HMRC !

Now more than ever, he believes it is vital that the people of Maidenhead have a voice in the redevelopment of Maidenhead. He supports the idea that the town must be a living community in which people enjoy living, working in, spending leisure time, shopping and socialising.

Andy Woodcock

Andy Woodcock has been Secretary of MNF since August 2019 and is standing for re-election.

Andy has lived in Belmont Ward for 25 years and was a Governor at Furze Platt Senior School whilst his two children were at secondary school. Andy has recently retired from a career in the transport sector, having joined the British Rail management training scheme in 1978.

Andy is well aware as a former regular commuter to London of the issues many residents face travelling out of the town by public transport and is keen to ensure that as the town grows proper provision in made. Not just for rail passengers drawn to the Elizabeth Line when it is eventually fully open, but also to adjoining neighbourhoods and towns around Maidenhead. This includes better provision of safe cycling and pedestrian routes as well as addressing the vexed issue of town centre parking.

Living within an easy walking distance of the town centre, a regular user of its facilities (pre-lockdown!) and a frequent rambler in the local countryside, Andy is keen to see Maidenhead develop in a sustainable way and not suffer from having a densely populated and overheated town centre. Once normal activities resume he regards Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum has the body capable of offering alternative visions for the town and being fully involved in the debate.

Chair’s Report

In ordinary times, the Chair’s Report for an AGM would be delivered in person to what one hopes would be an enraptured audience.  But in these strange times, my written words will have to suffice as a poor substitute and any opinions expressed are my own. We’re holding this AGM as a constitutional obligation whilst the activities of the Forum are suspended.

As I look back on Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum in 2019-20, there’s a lot to be proud of. We achieved a high awareness amongst the people of Maidenhead and, I think, gained a lot of trust – we were energetic, committed and competent.  It is, of course, truly galling that our application for Designation to prepare the neighbourhood plan for Maidenhead was rejected by RBWM - and there are many lessons to learn - but I believe we did as good a job as anyone could have done in the circumstances.

Why relaunch the Forum?

So, what were those circumstances?

Central government has been promoting neighbourhood planning since 2011, and the parishes of the Royal Borough have generally progressed well towards having plans adopted.  It’s a bottom-up community-based approach intended to complement the top-down planning required of the local authority.

As a unitary authority, the Royal Borough is a little unusual in having over half its population living in unparished areas (Maidenhead and Windsor) with only a single tier of local representation.  Unparished towns are not untypical – but having no town council is.  There is a definite democratic deficit in Maidenhead, particularly since the May 2019 local elections when eight of 14 councillors in the town are in opposition to the majority administration.

Neighbourhood planning law attempts to provide a mechanism for communities to create their own forums when there is no viable alternative entity that has an electoral mandate.  During 2013-18, Maidenhead had a neighbourhood forum but it was designated under the auspices of Cox Green Parish Council.  Although permissible at the time, it was never an arrangement that was properly underpinned by legitimate democratic accountability, and subsequent changes in the regulations concerning neighbourhood forums meant that it was no long possible to mix parished and unparished areas in the same plan area. In any event the designation of the previous forum expired in early 2019.

A new forum was launched in May 2019 under the interim leadership of Martin McNamee, this time covering the seven unparished wards of Maidenhead without Cox Green.  It is probably fair to say that no-one appreciated at the time how much higher the hurdles would be for gaining Designation without a parish council – hurdles that we have so far failed to clear.

Regeneration

Covid-19 has, in recent weeks, changed perceptions greatly – and I’ll say more about this later.  But it already seems a little odd to think about a time up to December 2019 when Maidenhead Regeneration was full-steam-ahead. Developers were running public consultations, and RBWM even commissioned an expensive place-making exercise from JTP Studios – which has since stalled.  Much of the interest in the new Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum seemed to stem from a sense that, despite the faux concern for public opinion, the developers were in control, not the harried planning officials and certainly not the people.

The previous council administration was keen on “getting things done”.  That’s understandable when progress had previously been slow and the Crossrail “dividend” was actively being fought for by other authorities along its route.  Regeneration became the central focus, and the authority committed much of its borrowing capacity to a joint venture with Countryside. Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) was set to be zero-rated in the town centre, and various other schemes on greenbelt land – such as Maidenhead golf course - were promoted.

The Borough Local Plan was pushed out to the Inspector with enough gaps in the duty to consult that she asked for it to be revisited or withdrawn.  The new council administration chose to push ahead - with major revisions that may be beyond the scope of what the inspector can consider – whilst managing an unstable staffing situation in its planning team.

MNF’s vision

The new MNF was ambitious.

  • We were – and are – convinced that the area to apply for was seven unparished wards as a single entity, representing 53,000 people. For a neighbourhood plan, that’s exceptionally large but not the only one of this size
  • We were applying to develop a neighbourhood plan for an area that already had significant development momentum – meaning that time was short to make a difference. We were building on five years’ work by the forerunner forum, and a speedy conclusion seemed feasible
  • In the absence of an electoral mandate, we wanted to establish a genuine underpinning of popular support. That involved using online technologies and social media to engage with the public more extensively than any previous forum had attempted.

I took over from Martin McNamee as Chair in August.  The Forum agreed a new Constitution in October and we set out to achieve Designation by end-2019.

Approach

Neighbourhood forums are required to have a minimum of 21 members.  For such a large area, MNF warranted having a larger membership, and we were able to achieve 60 members and 360 other followers by end-2019.  Almost inevitably, the age/gender mix was not fully representative of the town’s demographic – but that’s typical of most civic organisations.

A new website was developed at mnf.org.uk.  The public could sign up online as members or supporters via the website, and we published posts on relevant topics most weeks.  One highlight was a think-piece on Tall Buildings by Judith Littlewood.

Interactive mapping was an early success. Within 24 hours of the revised site allocations in the Borough Local Plan being published, we had them mapped and publicised.  It became the go-to resource for people across the Royal Borough for being easier to visualise than the tomes published by RBWM.

We ran three public surveys on relevant topics.  250-300 responses on each were enough to yield some important insights, and many thousands of people engaged with the resulting analyses.

Social media engagement was satisfactory, but I think we could have achieved more.  We tried to hire some paid expertise to drive this area forward, but circumstances meant that we ended up learning-and-doing ourselves.

Organisationally, the intention had been to build topic groups.  The expectation was that the public has specific interests rather than the generic “neighbourhood planning” per se and topic-specific groups were more likely to attract active leaders and members.  It is my greatest disappointment that the topics groups never caught fire.

Funding & support

We’re grateful for the central government support and funding that was made available via their agents, Groundwork UK and Locality.  As a Forum covering a large area, we were entitled to up to £17,000 from this source and were additionally able to tap technical support from approved consultants, AECOM.  Had we achieved Designation, we had every confidence that other funding sources would have been possible, so money was never a constraint.

In practice, we called off only £4,800 of the headroom, spent 13% of that and in line with the requirements of the grant returned the unspent funds at the financial year-end.

Designation

Our aim of obtaining Designation by end-2019 was stymied from the start by RBWM delaying the required consultation by eight weeks.  We were pressured by planning officers to only proceed with applying for the area designation and to defer the forum designation, but we declined because time to make a difference was too short. They got their revenge later.

The consultation responses were fully supportive but nevertheless planning officers decided to refuse Designation of both the area and forum – and the decision was announced early February 2020.  It was deemed that the group was insufficiently representative of the town’s demographic.

MNF’s response

MNF has been completely unable to engage with RBWM since the Covid-19 outbreak gathered pace.  Ideally, we wanted to try to understand whether a route-map towards Designation exists.  The lockdown has since meant that no decision has been made – or could be made - whether to re-apply, to re-purpose the forum to do something else, or close it down.

Futures

I suspect we will emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown with much of the oxygen driving Maidenhead’s regeneration having been exhausted.  Will developers still be able to fund their schemes with venture capital funds when these are being crowded-out by higher levels of public debt? Will the demand for out-of-London flat-living hold up?  Will people commute so much?  Even before the lockdown, The Landing developers were putting a brave face on a struggling scheme – their only achievement so far has been to clear the site and reduce the owner Smedvig’s business rates overhead.

I had already decided it would be best for me to stand down as Chair. Our inability to build an energetic cohort of topic groups meant that we were not well prepared for the long haul. Despite wider public interest, active engagement in the work of the Forum was overly focussed on a few key volunteers – me being one of them – to be healthy or sustainable.  Secondly, the failure to achieve Designation in a timely manner, then followed by Covid-19, means that we’ve been set back a year or more.  I’ll continue to take part as a forum member, if it is decided to continue, but to (re)launch the Forum a third time needs new leadership energy.

Whatever our deficiencies in terms of representativeness, I don’t see any other group stepping up to develop a neighbourhood plan for Maidenhead or any subset of it.  This forum probably is the only viable route to having any neighbourhood plan for Maidenhead within the next decade. It is for another Chair to work that through with RBWM.

Let’s hope that life can start to emerge from lockdown soon, and that people will quickly regain the bandwidth to think about civic engagement.  Until then, I wish you and your families well, stay safe and looking forward to the return to a more normal life.

Matthew Shaw

Chair, Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum