Swindon is literally on the verge in three senses, writes Alan Hayward from Sparcells, right.
Firstly, it is a built up town – a Principal Urban Area as the planners would have it – that has rural countryside surrounding it in every direction. Secondly, it could soon lose most of its valued green surroundings to development. Thirdly, Swindon is close to swamping and coalescing with the towns and villages that are currently its neighbours.
Swindon’s major attraction is its rural setting – twenty to thirty miles to the nearest sizable town in any direction. The quality of life and the relaxed atmosphere of the town are based upon the ability to travel for a few minutes and be in the countryside.
2005 has begun with a plethora of planning related inquiries, consultations and announcements. In Swindon we are currently undergoing the Local Plan Inquiry, the Draft Sub-Regional Spatial Strategy Plan Consultation as well as various objections to existing proposals by interested individuals and campaign groups.
This is just inaccessible and impenetrable gobbledygook for the average person. The plain English Crystal Mark version would summarise the situation as:
o Government inspectors are deciding about how the Front Garden should be built upon;
o Government inspectors are deciding how the land around Coate Water should be developed;
o The public are being asked if they agree with:
– building a huge number of houses around Swindon which will fill up the green spaces between the surrounding towns and villages, or,
– building a huge number of houses around Swindon which will overrun the surrounding towns and villages.
The people who live in Wootton Bassett, the Lydiards, Purton, Cricklade, Blunsdon, South Marston, Wanborough, Lidding-ton, Chiseldon and Wroughton do so because they have made the choice not to live in Swindon itself; they prefer smaller communities and the rural surroundings. That is their prerogative and they have the right to enjoy it in the future. Why should they be forced to become part of ‘Greater Swindon.’
Yet, Government strategy is to provide homes in the South West for people migrating primarily from the South East, based on future projections of historical trends. It does not take into account the views of the people who live here.
We have never been consulted on whether we want this migration or expansion. All we are being asked is, which flavour of growth do you want?
The opinion of the residents surely must take priority over national and regional diktats to provide dwellings for incomers
This is the same old story. As with the siting of the Great Western Hospital, the development of the Front Garden, the Northern Development Area plans and the Coate proposals, the question has never been what or if, only which.
Over the period between the last two Censuses, 1991 to 2001, the population of Swindon Borough grew by 8,500. The City of Bristol dropped by 11,600 and Plymouth Urban Area fell by 10,500.
If a regional strategy for inward migration is absolutely necessary and this itself is questionable then it must be environmentally and sustainably a better option to regenerate the city centres of Bristol and Plymouth, reversing their de-urbanisation rather than destroying the green fields around Swindon.
Whilst our local representatives at the South West Regional Assembly – who are making these decisions for us – are democratically elected local councillors, do they truly represent the views of the people of Swindon when they agree to the possibility of building another 24,000 houses around our town in the next twenty years, increasing the population from 180,000 to 230,000 residents?
This is a huge, rapid expansion, larger and quicker than anything we have ever seen. Swindon’s infrastructure – social services, education, health, transport, water supplies and sewerage treatment facilities – creaks at the joints now.
The people of Swindon and the surrounding settlements are on a very short fuse. I believe we are close to a passionate public outcry against this further expansion.
Many people have said that the proposals to build around Coate Water are the last straw. Plans to concrete over Swindon’s verges may well just set that straw alight.
Catch the plans before it is too late
The outline proposals for the 16,000 to 24,000 home expansion of Swindon have been on display in different venues throughout January.
The last public display can be seen at the Haydon Wick Parish Council Offices on Thames Avenue on Tuesday 1 February, 3.30pm to 7.30pm.
Comments are invited until 18 February. The plans can be found at www.swindon.gov.uk