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How Maidenhead has transformed into a 21st century Super Town

PUBLISHED: 10:48 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:48 24 March 2014

Welcome to a new look town

Welcome to a new look town

Archant

The town is transforming before our very eyes into a first class destination for work, life and entertainment, Jan Raycroft discovers

The Thames at MaidenheadThe Thames at Maidenhead

In the past Maidenhead has liked to take its time. For instance, the first grumblings about misuse of toll money at Maidenhead Bridge were made in 1400 because the bridge controllers had a habit of ‘redirecting’ cash supposed to be spent on repairs, instead pocketing it or funding local festivities.

But it took until 1903 for a parliamentary bill to make tolls there illegal after centuries of money going on such delights as the Mayor’s Feast. A jolly crowd threw the toll gate into the Thames as the clock passed midnight and the day of no more tolls began.

It’s all ‘very Maidenhead’ and so we shouldn’t be surprised – perhaps instead delighted – that it only took 38 years of tribulation until completion of the Maidenhead bypass in 1961.

And then there is Badnells Pit, used as an unlicensed dumping ground for industrial waste from the 1950s to 1970s. Here we have a planning wrangle for 20 years or so which is up there with the best, courtesy of its suitably toxic mix of claims over what might have been dumped there (the less scary rumours included circus elephants), worried residents, a developer convinced it could be converted to housing, and a council staunchly opposing the plan until government approval meant even a costly judicial review was likely to fail.

An aerial view of the Chapel Arches schemeAn aerial view of the Chapel Arches scheme

Frankly, the town has tended to tick along, like a once elegant maiden aunt, becoming somewhat huffy, frayed at the edges and mostly left to her own devices and quirky style.

But in the last couple of years there has been an extraordinary change of gear and a determination to transform Maidenhead into what we might call a 21st century British Super Town. A superb place to live and work, a shopping, leisure and food destination to visit and so envy its residents – that’s Maidenhead, and it’s happening right now.

From 2019 Crossrail will connect Maidenhead and Heathrow with Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, providing faster trains right into London’s financial district. It’s just one of the factors already luring new residents and businesses, and there’s real evidence of this as we walk around what was Badnells Pit and is now the delightful Boulters Meadow with Shanley Homes sales director Nigel Sawers.

“So far just under 20 per cent of our buyers are coming from London,” he says. “They see the town, what we already have here, and what it’s going to be, and simply say ‘Let’s move to Maidenhead right now’. I think Maidenhead is one of those towns that tended to be forgotten from the 1970s, but that’s changing rapidly.”

Boulters Meadow is developing into a community of 448 homes, with a real mix of properties from one bedroom apartments to four bed homes attracting first time buyers, families, downsizers and investors. From 2006 over 300,000 tonnes of waste was carefully removed and then the land transformed into habitable space. Last year the project was recognised by the Royal Institution of Chartered with the runners-up prize in the regeneration category of their awards.

Resident Forn Mellor said: “We were so proud to be the first people to move in. It is only 10 minutes to the town and 15 minutes walk to the station, a great GP is just around the corner and there’s a lovely park over the road. There is everything a young family wants on the doorstep. Once Crossrail runs here there will be even more choices.”

Shanley are also taking on a major regeneration of the Chapel Arches area which will see more than 200 apartments, shops, restaurants, cafés and offices built around York Stream. The historic Bear public house will remain alongside listed buildings. The waterway is to be opened up by Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group and Shanly will restore the historic bridge over York Stream. Work starts this year at the old cinema site on the corner of Bridge Avenue, with completion in 2018.

Tamra Booth, Operations Director of Shanly Group, says: “We believe our proposals will complement and enhance the efforts being made to bring more footfall and trade to the town and returning the town to its glory days.”

The start of 2014 has also seen a new twist in plans for the ‘Kings Triangle’ 4.7 acres site between Broadway, King Street and Queen Street. The London & Aberdeen Group with Smedvig Eiendom of Norway acquired the site from previous owners whose plans were rejected by the Royal Borough in 2012.

With Bill Higgins, London & Aberdeen Group’s executive chairman living at Burchetts Green, this will be a project close to the developer’s heart.

Joined up thinking is doing the trick, with the Partnership for the Rejuvenation of Maidenhead acting as a steering group for local politicians, business and community groups. It’s supported by some powerful voices, from Home Secretary and local MP Theresa May to Heston Blumenthal. Just before Christmas developers, investors and agents were invited to Westminster to hear what Maidenhead has to offer.

So get ready to see Maidenhead transformed before your very eyes. That predisposition for dithering is gone - blink and you might miss something!

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