With BBC Wiltshire’s morning presenter Graham Mack holding the ring Swindon Council leader Rod Bluh, North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, and Swindon’s director of planning Dave Potter were given a grilling at a public meeting organised by Oakhurst Residents’ Association on 6 April.
Also facing the audience were Abbey Meads ward councillors Vera Tomlinson, Peter Stoddart, Peter Heaton-Jones, Abbey Meads ward Labour candidate Mark Viner.
When asked directly by Graham Mack, none of the panel raised their hands in support of the Tadpole Farm development north of Oakhurst and Redhouse. Nevertheless the site has been earmarked for further growth in Swindon’s draft forward planning Core Strategy since 2007. It would fulfil 9 per cent of the perceived need for extra houses in the town up to 2026.
Coun Bluh emphasised that the uncertainty of the economic climate means that development decisions are difficult to make. “It’s really important that as councillors we tell you the truth. We keep hearing that there is a shortage of houses, so we need a strategy to cope with that pent up demand. We’ve got to remember that 1,700 houses are not going to appear overnight. These developments can take ten to fifteen years to come through and are constantly subject to market forces.”
The majority of concerns voiced by the public at the meeting were about infrastructure issues, including traffic, school places, hospital provision and the risk of flooding.
Dave Potter, director of planning and transport, said, “unfortunately the fact that new developments will cause more traffic congestion and queuing at junctions does not constitute grounds for refusing applications. Tests would need to be carried out instead on the level of nuisance, inconvenience and safety caused by the proposals.
“To a large extent we are bound by what is laid out in the Core Strategy of 2008, and if we refuse to cooperate with developers then the proposals will go to appeal and we will lose the opportunity to have any influence.”
Justin Tomlinson MP said, “the existing road network in the northern sector is struggling with 10,000 houses. It’s clear that we need concrete plans for additional infrastructure before I can be in favour of adding more housing. The recent consultations have been developer driven and need to be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt. We need an independent and robust consultation procedure before any decisions can be made.”
Redhouse resident Steve Tovey, expressing concern about the impact on the Swindon road network of developer plans for more housing across the border in Wiltshire, at Ridgeway Farm (800) and Pry Farm (2,000), asked, “is it possible that Swindon Council can pursue a combined code of practice with Wiltshire Council, and that they can work together as a united front?”
Oakhurst resident Steve Austen said flooding could be a major problem with further development because existing watercourses are poorly maintained and don’t have capacity for water run off from Tadpole Farm.
Chair of Haydon Wick Parish Council Richard Hailstone called for the promised extension of Thamesdown Drive to Barnfield Road be built before more housing is agreed.
Coun Steve Wakefield, who represents Toothill & Westlea, echoed the call for a new access road. “The traffic congestion on Mead Way in West Swindon caused by the growth of traffic from North Swindon is a disaster.”
However Blunsdon resident Andrew Eastham said there was huge concern about traffic using the old A419 which has been turned into a rural lane since Blunsdon by-pass opened. “It is clear that if the council wants to have the support of the residents of North Swindon it has to provide a proper new access road to the new A419.”
With elected representatives saying no to further development without adequate infrastructure, the council leader saying we don’t know what’s going to happen and council officials stressing the importance of retaining their influence over the developers, many residents were left confused about where the pressure is going to come from to act on public concerns.
Steph Exell, secretary of Oakhurst Residents Association, said, “we were very pleased to see so many concerned people at the meeting, but this is merely our opening salvo. ORA isn’t easily satisfied because it’s all very well to say you’re against something, you have to deliver on promises.”
Pictured top, listening to community views, from left, Ian Birch, chair of Oakhurst Residents’ Association, North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, ORA secretary, Stephanie Exell, Swindon Council leader Rod Bluh, meeting chair Graham Mack