A special report by The Business Magazine produced in association with Colemans Solicitors LLP.
Easy travel links and proximity to London and Heathrow are underlying keys to the Thames Valley’s ongoing economic success, with the M4 providing the vital spinal chord of access to the sub-region’s attractive business opportunities, residential amenities and beautiful countryside.
There are seven motorway junctions in the M4 corridor westwards between the M25 ring-fencing of ‘London’ and the rural farmlands of West Berkshire beyond Reading.
Arguably, the three junctions (5,6,7) to the east serve the Slough-centric economic market area, and the three to the west (10,11,12) serve the Reading-centric economic market area – which leaves junction 8/9, the turn-off for Maidenhead.
Location-wise Maidenhead lies at the heart of those seven key junctions, yet ironically Maidenhead does not represent the economic heart of the Thames Valley, but simply one of its successful towns.
Is that a problem? Maybe Maidenhead already has the best of both worlds lying between those two major economic market areas, and under 30 minutes by car from its surrounding key Thames Valley towns? Certainly, the town continues to attract influential companies – eg Maersk, Adobe, ‘3’, Volvo UK, GSK – and has enviable leisure and amenity links – eg Boulters Lock on the Thames, Windsor Great Park, Henley, Ascot – but is it making the most of its locational attributes and economic potential? Is there the local drive for a greater future?
We asked some informed business and community leaders to provide their personal thoughts about Maidenhead – where it’s at now, its opportunities and challenges, and what the future might bring for the town.
A town eagerly awaiting a new heart …
Everyone we spoke to highlighted the Maidenhead area as “a great place to live and work“ – but also one currently lacking a modern, attractive, well-resourced town-centre acting as a vibrant urban heart.
However, they were optimistic about Maidenhead’s overall future, sitting as it is today on the cusp of fresh opportunity and potential.
It was felt that the lack of cohesive support for growth and development over many years had resulted in a disappointing town-centre with piecemeal developments and a shortage of suitable shopping, dining, parking and other facilities.
“Our neighbours – Windsor, Marlow, Reading, High Wycombe – have had the vision to prosper while our town-centre has declined. Maidenhead was a jewel on the Thames in days gone by, and it is saddening that inertia led to the inevitable,” said Sean Egan, a Maidenhead resident for over 30 years.
Malcolm Kempton noted: “Currently, if Maidenhead people want to enjoy an evening out they seek the better food and beverage offerings of Marlow, Windsor and Reading due to lack of choice in their own town.”
Michael Stone added that without attractive town-centre nightlife, Maidenhead loses potential tourist and local visitor business. “The Thames runs nearby and its potential is underutilised.”
Sarah Dean noted the town-centre’s long-term need of significant investment. “There’s not the cafe/bar/restaurant culture seen in neighbouring towns such as Marlow and Henley.” Apart from buying the basics, Maidenhead was not a first-choice shopping destination, nor a place at weekends for families with small children.
A local resident since 1976, Ross Wilson felt that Maidenhead’s town-centre retail service offering had been “appalling” for many years. Most discerning consumers had changed their allegiance from Maidenhead to better provided local towns.
“Equally, despite some extremely fine businesses in and around Maidenhead (often located in small industrial estates) and a nucleus of committed professionals in the town, there is no obvious business community hub.”
However, Mark Harris felt Maidenhead was now “an improving location with both commercial and residential developers focusing on upgrading the town-centre.”
Stone concurred with Egan, who said: “There is currently an air of optimism in Maidenhead, not least because of the town-centre developments that have started, Crossrail and Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRAtH). There are clearly a number of factors at play now, and one hopes that they will create a winning combination.”
Cllr Wilson said: “The latest news in town is that restaurant and café space at Chapel Arches is coming to market and several national chains have expressed interest. The heart is being revived and a waterside café culture is on its way to becoming reality.”
… with high hopes for its PRoM
In 2007, the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead set up the Partnership for the Regeneration of Maidenhead (PRoM), which in 2008 launched a comprehensive 20-year vision and Area Action Plan (AAP) for rejuvenating the town-centre – “the most exciting regeneration of Maidenhead in its history.” Ironically, recessionary inactivity provided valuable ‘thinking time’ for the PRoM planners.
PRoM’s AAP was approved and adopted in 2011. It identified six key opportunity areas (OAs) for specific regenerative development – overall, an estimated £1billion town-centre investment. There is now activity in all six OAs. “It is very encouraging that organisations, like Rotary, the Chamber, Town Partnership, Civic Society and other stakeholders are wholeheartedly behind the regeneration programme and playing their part to ensure we get the best result,” said ProM chairman Bob Dulson.
“We expected that the OAs would act as catalysts for investment in other parts of the town, and that is now happening.”
The Royal Borough and Dulson are upbeat about redevelopment progress happening today in the town-centre, with its new paving and signage.
“Partnership working and determination to achieve the town’s potential has been intrinsic to the town’s regeneration. There’s a distinct upswing in the town-centre with retail, residential and office development taking place and planned. Cranes and scaffolding tell the ongoing success story,” said Cllr Love.
“Visitors today cannot fail to see the extensive OA changes taking place at Chapel Arches,” said Dulson. “This is a three-phase scheme of shops, homes and offices being built around a widened and deepened York Stream which, capable of carrying small rivercraft, will bring a touch of the Thames into the town’s heart.
“Elsewhere, the townsfolk’s favourite ‘eyesore’ Berkshire House, a 1960s office block, is being refurbished as luxury serviced apartments. On the northern fringe, two striking new office blocks have recently been completed. Both have attracted tenants.”
Dean praised PRoM’s “significant improvements over the past year or so, and exciting plans for the future.” Harris was equally supportive: “These projects and other initiatives will transform the town-centre.”
“It’s possible that the six OAs will shortly become eight, providing more town-centre housing,” added Dulson.
AAP’s six OAs
- Broadway Triangle (site for The Landing, a major mixed-use scheme with outline approval)
- West Street (scene of two new office blocks, an hotel and a current SPD consultation for housing)
- High Street East (site of Chapel Arches, mixed-use scheme incorporating the waterway. Under construction)
- Station Area (improvements to the station, public realm and pedestrian access to town-centre; plus major mixed-use redevelopment medium-term)
- Stafferton Way (new southern link road completed, housing scheme approved, new car park proposed)
- York Road (civic and cultural quarter – development partner being sought)
Regeneration: A decade of development ahead
Achieving the planned town-centre regeneration will be key to attracting new businesses and residents, stated Kempton, while noting: “The problem with urban regeneration is that it takes a very long time to complete.
“As the elements of the master plan come to fruition Maidenhead will meet the demands of a thriving 21st century population – introducing attractive, well-planned landscaping, improved food and beverage offerings, new homes, offices and retail.
“Maidenhead is a town of opportunity and it will become a very different and exciting place to live and work in over the course of the next decade.”
But regeneration commitment and stamina will also be required, stressed Harris: “The local authority will need to work with developers to find solutions and make sure the appropriate infrastructures are in place to support this exciting growth of the town over the next few years. Residents and businesses need to work with the local authority to drive this wave of development activity forward so Maidenhead can compete with larger surrounding towns.”
Mentioning past poor planning decisions, Ross Wilson added: “The work done by PRoM is indeed exciting, although frankly I still worry about the commitment of the local authority towards anything to do with major rejuvenation projects.” Wilson feels the needs of new businesses and their employees will tend to drive the town-centre’s future retail sector offering.
“If the planned town-centre investment of a billion pounds comes to fruition it will create a momentum all of its own,” said Stone. “With regeneration of its town-centre, Maidenhead has the opportunity to punch above its weight.
“PRoM and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead have opened a dialogue, highlighted the opportunity, but it’s only just scratched the surface of Maidenhead’s potential,” he added.
Egan commented: “There is excitement about the regeneration of the town-centre, but there’s also some trepidation that while the new initiatives by themselves might be attractive, they need to deliver a cohesive plan – the sum of the parts needs to be greater than the individual components.”
PRoM has always seen its regeneration plans as advancing in phases up to 2026. “It’s already clear that some will come in ahead of schedule, others will take longer,” admits Dulson, while highlighting that Crossrail’s arrival is a significant milestone date that will focus minds and add impetus.
The train now arriving …
PRoM was partly established in anticipation of Crossrail’s arrival in Maidenhead – now scheduled for December 2019.
Our contributors largely view Crossrail as a magnificent opportunity for Maidenhead, if the town is able to exploit its local advantages.
“You don’t have to work or live in London to service London-based businesses, but it is important to be able to get there quickly if needs be. Crossrail will improve that connectivity, and lower overheads in Maidenhead will enable businesses servicing London and other counties to do so at more competitive rates,” explained Stone.
That opportunity and optimism is obviously shared by forward-thinking businesses, national retail chains, and home-seekers alike. Our property specialists confirmed that Maidenhead is already seeing “a fantastic surge in popularity.”
“Over the past 12 months businesses have been relocating to Maidenhead from London. They understand Maidenhead will benefit from Crossrail and provide new amenities within the planned development projects,” explained Harris.
“Residential values have also risen over the past few years with investors and owner-occupiers being attracted to Maidenhead. Properties are selling quickly. Record rents have been achieved on new properties.
“We anticipate increased housing and business demand coming to Maidenhead. No doubt the town will fill up, putting pressure on the town-centre to provide more,” he added.
Kempton agreed: “The Crossrail factor is already greater than I ever expected, with residential property prices already rising and commercial starting to catch up.”
“A number of large businesses have already relocated to the area, attracted by the lower rent per sq ft than nearer London. There is also good quality office and commercial accommodation on the edge of town with plenty of parking,” added Dean.
“Crossrail is a major strength and that’s seen by activity in the commercial property sector and the keenness of some major employers to look at the potential for pulling people out of London to Maidenhead to work, as opposed to traffic going the other way,” said Wilson.
There is anecdotal evidence of the Crossrail effect enhancing the town’s appeal, and a trend for young London couples to relocate here to benefit from a better lifestyle for their families.
Stone, Dean, Egan, Dulson, and Wilson all pointed out that Crossrail would not be Maidenhead’s only future Thames Valley transportation advantage, with WRAtH and First Great Western mainline electrification being ongoing projects.
“WRAtH will have a major positive impact on traffic coming to and from Heathrow, from the Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead area, making us ever more attractive to those looking to invest in our community,” said Wilson.
“Maidenhead businesses need to capitalise on the Crossrail effect and the benefits of working in Maidenhead now,” Dean urged.
One reason for Dean’s concern is that Crossrail (the ‘Elizabeth Line’ when launched in London in December 2018) is potentially a twin-edged sword – an inward and outward route for talented workers.
Can Maidenhead attract and retain a 21st century workforce?
Maidenhead’s central location provides it with a huge potential Thames Valley catchment area, but the town also needs to be attractive – a place where people want to work, and perhaps settle down.
Maidenhead and its surrounding villages do provide an enviable lifestyle, with beautiful countryside, top sport and leisure facilities, great local schools and some outstanding restaurants such as The Fat Duck and The Waterside.
And, while businesses and west London residents already relocating to the town are positives, future Maidenhead workforce transportation remains a concern.
“Car access to the town-centre from the M4 and the Bath Road from Slough is frequently congested. Road infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and parking facilities, whether town-centre or on the town fringes, expanded and modernised. Our existing traffic issues will only worsen unless we grasp the mantle now,” stated Egan.
With local public transport networks limited, the car remains the preferred way to travel to work for the vast majority of Maidenhead-based workers, despite the lack of long-term car parking for town-centre workers, Stone pointed out.
The Crossrail travel alternative will help, but a compass-spanning Maidenhead integrated transport system needs to be considered, he added.
Dean suggested a multi-storey car park near Maidenhead Station or a park-and-ride system, plus a Windsor link railway, would assist transportation and help maximise the workforce catchment.
“Maidenhead’s good quality schools produce a rich vein of talent. The challenge for local businesses is to retain that talent and not see it go to London and other places. A more vibrant Maidenhead will help,” said Stone.
Wilson felt there was evidence of locally educated talent “returning to its roots”, but he highlighted the need for Maidenhead to keep aligned with 21st century workstyles.
“Any commercial property landlord not prepared to upgrade their older properties will find themselves out on a limb with unrentable premises.
“The shortage of quality employees continues to be a threat to our business community and something of which all employers in the area need to be mindful. Perhaps there is now a greater realisation that our businesses need to be different and that attitudes towards employees need to be very modern to attract the best of the best.”
While technology has enabled 24/7 flexible, remote and home workstyles, modern town-centre offices would still be required, Stone pointed out. “Employees still like a base and the opportunity to interact with real people in the work environment.”
And employees like a local home too …
New housing hog-tied by a green belt?
Available space for new housing is a threat to Maidenhead’s future – not least because of green belt and development restrictions covering more than 80% of the Royal Borough.
Although local new-build housing projects are currently taking place, Maidenhead will have to be smart about housing provision for its future workforce.
“We are investigating various options, as we develop our borough local plan, to free-up the land desperately needed for residential and commercial growth,” said Cllr Wilson.
Dulson added: “There’s considerable pressure to accommodate as many homes as possible in the town itself. This has obvious benefits in terms of sustainability, vitality and the economy but the impacts on character and infrastructure have still to be assessed.”
Cllr Wilson stressed that retaining the town’s character was integral to the borough local plan, while Cllr Love added: “As development progresses, a priority is to ensure we have a well thought out, integrated town-centre with excellent connectivity between the various OAs.”
Stone noted: “The council through PRoM is working with developers rather than against them, and accepting as the way forward that buildings need to be taller, have underground car parking, and generally provide a higher density.”
Soaring property prices are also a concern, particularly for younger workers aiming to become first-time buyers in Maidenhead. Dean felt more affordable properties, at entry-level pricing, should be prioritised. “While property value increases can be seen as a strength for current occupiers, it is also a barrier to attracting workers to Maidenhead.”
Last year the average price of a home in Maidenhead was £468,419 (£530,409 in London, £191,812 in England and Wales). Most sales were of detached houses, averaging nearly £700,000. Maidenhead prices have risen 27% since 2013.
Playing catch-up in the fast lane?
Time is no friend to Maidenhead at present, with the regeneration of other Thames Valley towns already largely achieved or well underway.
As Stone mentioned: “Maidenhead will resemble a construction site for a number of years and during this period key business could be lost to other towns with Windsor, Bracknell, Reading, Wycombe and Slough all enjoying superior town-centre shopping facilities.”
Wilson added: “Maidenhead has a massive catch-up to do if it’s ever to compete with some of the excellent surrounding towns. Recovering ground will take decades.”
With Crossrail, WRAtH, and FGW electrification also benefiting other Thames Valley mainline rail towns there was the risk of businesses and workers choosing to relocate and commute to them instead of Maidenhead, noted Dean.
Creating a new identity
Kempton was adamant: “Maidenhead isn’t threatened by nearby towns since it will forge a new identity as regeneration is delivered. A modern, well-planned town-centre with the facilities and amenities that appeal to a 21st century workforce and housing market will create a new cultural identity for Maidenhead that goes beyond its great location and transport links.”
“Vision, partnership working, robust planning policies and business-friendly initiatives will help boost the town’s advantage,” said Cllr Love. “As a council, we support and encourage local business, actively working to attract employers and employment to the area.
“Our discretionary business rate relief scheme – fully funded by the council – has been a huge help to many starter businesses and in some cases even the deciding factor to their setting up on the high street.”
Dulson felt history was repeating itself. “Medieval Maidenhead came about when its Thames bridge created a more direct Great West Road route to Bath. Since then, each new transport era – stagecoach, railway, car, air, motorway – has brought fresh interest, investment and growth. What we’re seeing now is another chapter in the same story.”
Cllr Wilson added: “The waterways and Chapel Arches are already changing the town dynamics. And new town-centre residents will drive the demand for shops, dining and entertainment on their doorstep.”
Egan: “The future for Maidenhead is optimistic, and I hope that there will be an influx of businesses and business people to cement a future prosperity for all who live and work here.”
Wilson: “My overriding view is that we are moving back to an era where the community we grew up in really matters, and by taking a keen interest in it our futures will be ever more secure.
“Maidenhead is a great town with an incredible history and given that Windsor is between us and London, I doubt I will ever see Maidenhead becoming part of Greater London.”
Stone agreed: “Maidenhead is 30 miles west of London and I don’t see it losing its identity or being regarded as part of a London sprawl.
“We are privileged to call Maidenhead our home town, but, like any home, its owners – the local Maidenhead community – share a duty to maintain its fabric and qualities, while making it fit for daily and future use.”
- Michael Stone, managing partner of Colemans Solicitors
- Sarah Dean, branch manager, Handelsbanken
- Sean Egan, partner, Hale & Co, chartered accountants
- Malcolm Kempton, co-founder, KemptonCarrCroft, property consultants
- Mark Harris, director, Page Hardy Harris, chartered surveyors
- Bob Dulson, chairman of the Project for the Rejuvenation of Maidenhead (PRoM)
- Ross Wilson, founder, Wilson Partners, business advisers
- Cllr Philip Love, regeneration principal, Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
- Cllr Derek Wilson, planning lead, Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
Colemans, originally formed as Charles Coleman & Co in 1948, has been providing outstanding service for commercial and private clients for over 40 years in Maidenhead. Two of the firm’s current partners are products of Maidenhead’s excellent schools. Colemans strongly support the Maidenhead community sponsoring local charities and Maidenhead Rugby Club and are members of the Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce. The firm is delighted that the town-centre is now getting the investment it deserves so that it will match the quality of the surrounding area and see its historic pride restored. The regeneration of the town-centre will stimulate new retail and restaurant investment and a bright future awaits.