As the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead’s most famous resident prepares for his Coronation, the local political parties are busy campaigning to see who will be crowned the leader of this unitary authority in elections taking place on 4 May.
RBWM has been led by the Conservatives since 2007 with the party winning a five seat majority at the most recent all out elections in 2019. This majority was subsequently eroded to three by a Conservative councillor defecting to the Liberal Democrats. Despite this precarious position, the Conservatives under the forceful leadership of Andrew Johnson have managed to keep their administration intact and adopted their Local Plan in February 2022 with all Conservative councillors voting in favour.
The Plan was not without controversy with vociferous protests and an attempted judicial review around the allocation of the Maidenhead Golf Course site. In recent weeks, Cllr Johnson has indicated that a future Conservative administration will try to reduce the 14,420 homes allocated in the Plan including at the Maidenhead Golf Course in the light of the expected revisions to the NPPF and the dilution of housing targets under the proposed Levelling-up & Regeneration Bill. Perhaps as a consequence of this, promoters of several allocated sites are now progressing planning applications for allocated sites, some of which have been granted consent at committee in recent weeks.
Away from planning, there is a somewhat fractious relationship between the ruling Conservatives and the opposition parties which presently consist of a combination of Liberal Democrats, an assortment of local resident association members and a solitary councillor from the National Flood Prevention Party which highlights the sensitivity of this issue in the Royal Borough. At present neither Labour nor the Greens are represented. Despite their fragmented nature, should the opposition have the numbers, we would expect the non-Conservatives to work together to form an administration. It should be noted that no opposition councillors supported the adoption of the Local Plan. In the event that there is a Liberal Democrat/Residents coalition, the identity of the new Council Leader will probably be dependent on which group is the largest. There are presently ten Liberal Democrats and nine Residents councillors so this is presently hard to predict.
It should be noted that a number of current Cabinet members including David Coppinger (the previous Cabinet Member for Planning), Ross McWilliams, David Hilton and Stuart Carroll are not restanding and consequently there will be a significant turnover of councillors on the Conservative side regardless of the election outcome.
With several split wards and some instances of the Liberal Democrat and Residents candidates not standing against each other to maximise the anti-Conservative vote, there is undoubtedly the chance of a change of control. However, Cllr Johnson and his team are a resolute bunch who are working hard to defend their record. Therefore, we see this election as currently too close to call although we do expect we’ll have a clear sense of who has emerged victorious by the time the Coronation pageantry starts two days after the election.