An ambitious plan to breathe new life into Swindon’s ailing town centre has been unveiled by Forward Swindon.
The organisation has been charged with delivering Swindon Borough Council Town Centre Masterplan which was published by Swindon Borough Council in 2013.
A key challenge – according to Forward Swindon – is to break the cycle of ‘nothing happening’. It argues that potential investors see Swindon as ‘risky’ and are put off by uncertainty surrounding the future development of the town centre.
Forward Swindon propose a series of connected schemes within an ‘arc of opportunity’ running north-east from the Railway Heritage Quarter to the station and south east along Fleming Way.
A re-organisation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic is also seen as key to the development of the area. Areas earmarked for development include the Railway Village, the station approach and Kimmerfields.
Paul Chamberlain, director of New Partnerships explained: “a key objective of the Delivery Plan is to change investors’ perceptions, through a series of projects that will act as a catalyst for future investment in the area.
“Publishing the Plan is a bit of a relief. Yes, there have been commercial sensitivities, but we also wanted to be ready to emphasise delivery – to have things to point to. We know there have been too many empty promises.”
The blueprint has been under wraps for commercial reasons, whilst Forward Swindon concluded a number of land deals on behalf of the council.
Paul is one of a number of new recruits to Forward Swindon. The council-owned company, headed by Chief Executive Deborah Heenan, was restructured in late 2016 following a council decision for it to be refocused on town centre delivery. Business development, marketing and other activities have reverted back to the council.
Some have branded the plans long overdue with Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson being among the vocal critics of the scheme.
“We’re mindful of the history – and that’s why we want to emphasise delivery. I am confident we can do that, based on realistic plans and expectations. It’s a difficult context – town centres have been failing across the country, for many reasons beyond Swindon’s control. But we believe we can play to Swindon’s strengths, such as its strong economy, and its heritage.”
Forward Swindon are focussing their initial efforts on the Carriage Works and Swindon’s railway heritage. Next month, builders will begin work on Phase 1 which will see a redevelopment of 9,845 sq ft in the West shed to create a multi-use space for digital, learning and creative industries in the image of Bristol’s Engine Shed. Forward Swindon plans to base their operation on the site.
Phase 2 will be a conversion of the remaining 47,000 sq ft of the West Shed to create flexible spaces for small and large businesses. This will be multi-use space designed to attract a mix of business – digital arts, learning, artist studios and creative industries. A yard space between the East and West buildings for outdoor events and a café will be created.
Phase 3 will see the conversion of the East Shed to create 58,556 sq ft of workspace for a similar mix of businesses, tech companies and small companies.
There are also plans – supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership – for a new pedestrian tunnel connecting the new development with the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet village.
“There is a chance to create something very special that will produce long-lasting benefits for the town. Other towns have shown what can be achieved the right vision and balance of public and private involvement.”
Forward Swindon’s future is in the balance with just another year of funding committed by the council. But the new team are confident in their plans and believe the company can eventually become self-funding. New announcements are promised, including the start of the Carriage Works redevelopment, announcement of new tenants, the redevelopment of Faringdon Road, and a planning application for the redevelopment of Aspen House.
The Delivery Plan was developed with input from award-winning architects Metropolitan Workshop and planning practice Allies and Morrison.
Full details of the proposed plans can be found on the Forward Swindon website www.forwardswindon.co.uk