Wiltshire Council’s proposal to build 3,000 homes as an ‘urban extension’ to Swindon was clearly rejected by around 170 residents of West Swindon and Purton at a lively and at times chaotic public meeting on 18 January – however the chances of stopping it are limited.
The meeting was called by West Swindon councillors to hear residents’ views on the plans to build 800 homes at Ridgeway Farm (in addtion to 200 already agreed at Moredon Bridge – see opposite) and 2,000 at Pry Farm, on either side of the B4553, close to Purton.
David Potter, Swindon Council’s head of planning and transport, explained that the government has directed both Wiltshire and Swindon to find land for thousands of new homes through its Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). He said, “councils have had the choice of whether to object and oppose this, or manage such proposals. Our approach has been to object to the demands from government, but at the same time work on evidence for viable development sites. Planning authorities need coherent master plans to resist piecemeal planning applications.”
He pointed out that Swindon had objected to the 11,000 homes northern development in the early 1990s but this was rejected by planning inspectors. The result was that the building companies did not contribute financially to community facilities as much as they could have.
Richard King from Shaw said he was extremely frustrated by the threat of more housing. “I am at a loss for words; why is it that Swindon has to take more and more housing – the roads are totally congested, I can see more flooding, the town is being ruined.”
Right, MOD the aviation fuel dump right in the middle of the development area
Wiltshire councillor Jackie Lay said the people of Purton were in agreement with West Swindon residents. “The back roads are congested with traffic accessing the M4, The Pry site next to the River Ray is prone to flooding and there is a major problem of where sewage is to go.
“The planning process is very complex and the RSS process has been challenged legally. But councillors from both sides of the border need to work together to fight it going forward.”
Wiltshire Council planning officer Georgina Clampitt-Dix told the meeting that Wiltshire Council would not make a final decision on its RSS until after the general election.
Coun Nick Martin said he and fellow councillors would be lobbying Swindon Council’s cabinet to challenge the urban extension plans, as well as current MPs and parliamentary candidates. “These plans are an outrage and we all must argue that they are unsustainable and impose too great a cost upon the people of Swindon.”
He apologised for the crowded nature of the meeting in Peatmoor’s Woodlands Edge pub which meant some people could not hear or be heard, but he encouraged people to come to a follow up on 25 February.
• Wiltshire planners say the urban extensions at Ridgeway Farm and Pry Farm:
• should have two primary schools and another secondary school, possibly built in conjunction with Swindon and,
• Traffic access could be made off Mead Way at Peatmoor and from Thamesdown Drive – across the River Ray and the Swindon & Cricklade railway line.
• Their outline plans make allowances for the flood plain and the Ministry of Defence petrol dump next to the main railway line.
What do the politicians say:
Most of West Swindon was built in Wiltshire during the late 1970s and early 1980s before the area was transferred to Swindon. In the July Link magazine coun Gary Perkins (Shaw & Nine Elms) said the land should become part of Swindon before development starts so the town can benefit from Section 106 developer contributions and council tax income.
In December coun Steve Wakefield (Toothill & Westlea) endorsed this view. “Wiltshire is parking its tanks on our lawn. This plans must not go ahead."
Coun Nick Martin, Shaw & Nine Elms ward, said, “this is precious green space. West Swindon, and particularly our already congested roads, cannot cope with thousands of extra residents on our doorstep.”
Labour South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove and Labour candidate for North Swindon Victor Agarwal have called for Wiltshire Council to cancel plans to dump 3,000 new homes neighbouring West Swindon having a severely impact on schools, roads and services in Swindon.
Anne Snelgrove MP said, “Wiltshire County Council needs to be straight with the people of West Swindon. They have deliberately decided to build these homes right next to Swindon so that they can use our services. I have been shocked at the lack of consultation with residents and the audacity of the Council to blame this development on the Government. The Council should also be aware that many market towns in Wiltshire need new affordable housing. I have spoken with West Swindon councillors about this issue and I believe that the development should be cancelled.”
North Swindon Labour candidate Victor Agarwal said, “Wiltshire County Council is trying to piggy-back this development onto Swindon and I know residents are angered by the prospect of 3,000 new homes putting pressure on their neighbourhood. Swindon is planning for the building of new homes in a sustainable way to accommodate the increasing population of the town and to fuel economic growth. However, this development is badly planned and would hurt Swindon.”
However their Conservative party opponents – Robert Buckland who will contest South Swindon and Justin Tomlinson, who will fight for North Swindon, have condemned the Labour politicians for making a major U-turn.
"Yesterday, Labour bizarrely criticised the Conservatives for the Regional Spatial Strategy – a Labour government's policty. But only four months ago, Labour’s South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove strongly supported the RSS, saying, “it lays out important manageable growth figures for Swindon”.
Robert Buckland said, “we now have proof that Labours just can’t be trusted on this issue. As recently as September, Anne Snelgrove wrote to Swindon Council saying her government’s Regional Spatial Strategy was the best thing since sliced bread.
"Now, when she sees that public opinion is so strongly against the development, she does a complete U-turn and even tries to blame the Conservatives for the plans. She’s trying to have her cake and eat it”.
Justin Tomlinson, added, "this is just disgraceful behaviour from Labour. It’s significant that yesterday’s statement was co-written by their new parliamentary candidate, who is a Surrey Councillor living about a hundred miles away. He clearly knows nothing about this issue and fails to understand how serious it is for local residents where I live in North Swindon.”