A meeting that many people in North Swindon thought had been postponed will take place on Wednesday 23 November – but the venue has been switched at just 5 days notice.
Swindon Council leader Rod Bluh will speak at the North Swindon Forum meeting at North Swindon library to explain the history of the money paid by developers to the council for transportation, education and community facilities and where it has been spent.
In mid-2008 the developers and the council struck a deal to change the original S106 agreement to give the council elbow room to spend the money in different parts of the town which would benefit residents of North Swindon.
To achieve this greater flexibility the council and the North Swindon Development Company agreed to reduce the amount originally agreed in the early 1990s of £17.1 million to £14.375 million.
However a high proportion of the money has been spent all over the town, with large amounts funding projects with almost no link to North Swindon – for example, building football pitches in Old Town and an all weather surface at Greendown School in West Swindon. See the SwindonLink story on 23 September, below, for more details.
The North Swindon Forum meeting was supposed to have taken place on 16 November, then moved to 23 November. However it was thought a further postponement was to take place because it clashed with Oakhurst Residents’ Association meeting, which the chair of Haydon Parish Council had agreed to attend. At five days notice the forum meeting has been advertised to take place at North Swindon Library instead of Haydon Wick Parish Council offices – see the poster right.
Secretary of Oakhurst Residents’ Association reacted angrily to the way the meeting has been organised. "The chair of the North Swindon Forum councillor Vera Tomlinson has known for weeks that our AGM was planned for 23 November, but it seems that we cannot do anything about it.
"We’ve protested to the Chief Executive Gavin Jones but he says there are few rules around how the neighbourhood forums and clusters operate. It’s up to each chairperson to do as they will. Gavin is a keen guitarist. Our message is if you don’t know the chords, or have a broken string, you can’t play the right music if the band isn’t playing together. How is the North Swindon supposed to play together for the benefit of the community if the rules are not agreed by all. North Swindon is not a happy place."
Now the council Labour opposition Jim Grant has demanded that more Section 106 money should be spent in North Swindon. He said, “I am calling for more Section 106 money that has been generated from North Swindon to actually be allocated in North Swindon. This was the call North Swindon residents made to me in my public meeting on Wednesday (16th) and I think that it is only fair they get this.
"Despite being represented by Conservative councillors I feel North Swindon residents have been very unfairly treated by Swindon’s Conservative administration, with it now being known that only 17 per cent of the Haydon 3 developers money was actually spent in North Swindon."
He added that the badly advertised meeting should be postponed so that the majority of residents have the chance of attending. "North Swindon’s residents need to know why they’ve been treated this way? We thought the Tories were going to do this through their announcement of a public meeting taking place at Haydon Wick Parish Council Offices, with the Council Leader in attendance. This will cause utter confusion for local residents.
"I am calling on the Tory administration to rearrange this public meeting in order for North Swindon residents to have their say.”
However Councillor Bluh is expected to attend the meeting on 23 November. Swindon Link has been hearing rumours that some £3 million of Section 106 house builder’s contributions has been re-allocated to North Swindon is response to the publicity and criticism that not enough of the £14.375 million total has been spent in the area.
Residents should not be surprised if Rod pulls some rabbits out of his hat.
Revealed: where the North Swindon developers’ cash has gone
SwindonLink asked at the end of February where the millions paid by house developers in North Swindon to Swindon Borough Council has gone.
Originally, when planning permission to build North Swindon was granted in the 1990s, the developers agreed to contribute £17.1 million for the provision of infrastructure like transportation links, education and community facilities under what is known as Section 106 (S106) of planning legislation.
However many of the projects identified in the legal agreement were very specific and as the years passed they could not be built within the timescales laid down.
There was to be a major contribution to the extension of Thamesdown Drive to Great Western Way, but this project is no longer in Swindon’s capital expenditure programme because the estimated £100 million cost cannot be covered without major funding input from central government.
In mid-2008 the developers and the council struck a deal to change the original S106 agreement to give the council more flexibility in the way the money could be spent in different parts of the town which would benefit residents of North Swindon.
To achieve this greater flexibility the council and the North Swindon Development Company agreed the reduced amount of £14.375 million.
So where has it been spent? To say the least the process is not transparent but an incomplete list seen by The Link shows allocations to:
Highways and infrastructure:
• £10.47 million on major alterations at Bruce Street Bridges and additional works on Great Western Way roundabouts towards the town centre;
• £302,000 for Haydon Brook flood alleviation;
• £40,000 for improvement to the embankment at Tadpole Bridge over the River Ray;
• £6,311 on design works for a sculpture at Junction 1 on Thamesdown Drive & Cricklade Road which was not completed because of projected overall costs – pictured above
• £246,000 on changing rooms for use by community teams at Orchid Vale Primary School;
• £128,000 on the Lydiard Park Visitor Centre;
• £60,000 on flood relief work;
• £50,000 on an Artsmad project.
Money has been spent on all weather pitches and sports provision around the town:
• £260,989 on replacing the all weather surface at Greendown School in West Swindon – pictured right;
• £300,000 on the Dorcan pitch in East Swindon;
• £600,000 on the Croft pitch in Old Town;
• £60,754 on the Croft Football Academy in Old Town.
Money that has also been allocated:
• £464,511 on Croft Sports Centre in Old Town (£392,000 of which will be repaid to the S106 fund);
• £70,000 on the Swindon & Cricklade Railway Society project to bring the steam railway to Mouldon Hill – pictured below, the current end of the line next to Oakhurst and Mouldon Hill Park;
• £600,000 on managing school place planning in North Swindon;
• £700,000 on a community hall at Redhouse Village Centre.
In Swindon Council cabinet meeting papers for May 2010 – responding to a report on improvements to Croft Sports Centre in Old Town – Abbey Meads councillor Peter Stoddart wrote: ‘I am strongly opposed to the plundering of Haydon 3 Section 106 contributions for the Croft site. This is another decision that has been badly handled. Why were Abbey Meads councillors not consulted?’
Haydon Wick parish council chair Richard Hailstone has called for clarity. “Haydon Wick Parish Council and Blunsdon Parish Council have been trying to unravel the tangled web of these agreements for nearly ten years. We have now written to the leader of Swindon Council asking for an explanation as to why money is being spent all over the town with dubious justification.
“North Swindon house buyers have contributed to the S106 fund in the price they paid; they can reasonably expect more provision in their area – there is a feeling that North Swindon has been and is being robbed.”
Oakhurst Residents’ Association secretary, Stephanie Exell, is also calling on Swindon Council to reveal a full account of income and expenditure. “Whilst money has to be spent strategically on projects across
Swindon, the system of allocating this precious resource appears to be managed by a few senior councillors in secrecy
“Large amounts of money has been spent on projects in West and East Swindon, and particularly in Old Town at Croft, without clear justification to Swindon residents. I don’t think backbench councillors have a clue what is going on.”
Right, some of the households in Redhouse, North Swindon who have contributed to the millions of pounds in Section 106 receipts to Swindon Council which needs to be accounted for