Anne Snelgrove MP spoke about Lower Shaw Farm in Parliament on 20 November, 8pm.
As part of the debate on Communities and Environment she said that the Conservatives in control of Swindon Council are trying to close an important environmental resource in Swindon.
"I shall talk about local government measures from my experience as a local councillor and of my local authority, Swindon Borough Council. To illustrate some of the issues, I shall refer to the example of the Lower Shaw Farm, which the council unfortunately wants to close, possibly to sell it off for extra housing. Together with other pressure groups, I am fighting that decision.
The Labour Government have invested heavily to bring about improvements in local public services. The next stage is to guarantee national standards while supporting local communities to take a lead on decisions that affect them. By 2007-08, the total Labour Government grant to local authorities will have increased by 39 per cent. since 1997.
In addition, ?2 million has been provided by the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of Health to turn around my local council. Subsequently, the council achieved its two-star rating in December last year and the Government have begun to give it more autonomy.
I congratulate the local council, its officers and councillors and the Government officers who helped the council to achieve that. Direct intervention in the administration has at last ended, but the idea that Government support has ended is wrong, as Government policy continues to underpin the improvements.
I was pleased to learn today that the town falls within one of the successful pathfinder areas for primary schools, which means that it will receive an additional capital grant of ?6.5 million in April 2008. I thank the Minister for Schools for the record investment in Swindon schools.
Nevertheless, Swindon Borough Council is still claiming that it needs to sell off much-loved capital assets, such as Lower Shaw Farm, which is a community resource that local people value. I am very concerned about the sell-off of the farm. It is run by the Lower Shaw Farm Association and is a thriving educational and recreational centre. It was a dairy farm initially bought by the then Thamesdown Borough Council, but in the scheme of things, it was not required for development. It was later agreed by council members – and this was minuted – that the Lower Shaw farm should be:
"retained in perpetuity as a centre for educational and recreational activities appropriate to its natural environment, its unique setting, and its founding spirit."
During the past 20 years, the association’s work has developed and expanded. Its important role in Swindon was recognised in 2002 when Lower Shaw farm was the first winner of the local Agenda 21 Quality of Life Award for
‘boosting awareness and interest in sustainability.’
Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members have appeared at the farm, during the Swindon Festival of Literature, for example, and on other courses, and some of them know it well. Its activities have grown to include up to 24 structured residential courses and recreational events in all sorts of spheres. It is a beacon of excellence – not just educationally, as it also a beacon of environmental and local government excellence. That is why I am raising the issue in today’s debate.
I do not understand why a local council is claiming that it has to apply best value rules and therefore sell it to the highest bidder. I do not understand why the council is seeking to close down something with such a proven track record, with all its facilities and expertise in matters educational, cultural and environmental.
It could be a flagship project for Swindon if only the local Conservative administration were prepared to support it instead of attempting to close it. It was championing environmental issues such as recycling and composting 20 years ago, when they were perceived as cranky. Now that they are in the mainstream, we should not consider closing such a place – it is a green lung in West Swindon – and concreting over it, as is proposed."