Swindon’s current Council likes to pride itself on delivering its promises. Hence it put forward its famous menu of 50 promises against which it reckoned it should be judged. Their self-image is one of an efficient and well-managed Council.
Although it wasn’t in the big 50, another promise was made by Council Leader Rod Bluh. When Bath University’s proposal to build a University campus close to the Great Western Hospital at Commonhead, was abandoned, Rod publicly committed the Council to a policy of ‘No University, No housing’ (in the area surrounding Coate Water). Let’s call this the 51st promise.
However, the Council is now proposing to change their ‘Swindon Core Strategy’, so that the area to the east of Coate Water would see 750 houses built, whilst 15 hectares would be designated employment land. This is now, subject to a consultation process, the Council’s ‘preferred option’ for the area.
The University of Bath treated the people of Swindon with contempt, trying to blackmail us into accepting the proposed University on the site of their choosing, regardless of our views. Some people, including many local politicians, were prepared to acquiesce because the choice was supposedly between a University campus at Commonhead or no University at all. This was the same argument that facilitated the building of the new PFI hospital on the edge of town at Commonhead.
As it happened the plan of the University of Bath fell through. So committed was this great institution to the interests of local people that they soon decided to close down their Oakfield campus, which had been not so much an educational facility as a bridgehead into the town.
Behind the spurious arguments justifying the campus at Commonhead – one being the need for the Medical School to be near to the hospital – lay the real basis for their interest. The ‘developers’ were offering the land for free. This largesse on their part was not based on their concern for the cultural and economic development of the town. They knew that their chance of winning a planning application would be greatly enhanced if their plan was associated with a University. Given the grossly inflated price of housing today, the ‘developers’ could afford to give away land to the University and still make plenty of money from the rabbit hutches they build these days.
If anybody imagined the the ‘developers’ would give up after the collapse of the University of Bath plan, they were sadly mistaken. They are, of course, nothing else if not persistent. In pursuit of their holy grail, future profits, they try to wear down politicians and local people.
When local politicians decided to support the planning application for the new PFI hospital, they told us not to worry. Its acceptance would not be used as a precedent for further ‘development’ in the Coate area. None but the naïve believed them. Politicians have notoriously short memories.
So today, in proposing the changes to the ‘Swindon Core Strategy’ the Council is reneging on the promise of Rod Bluh, on its behalf, and acting in the interests of the ‘developers’.
Political differences aside, when political leaders make clear and unambiguous commitments, we are entitled to hold them to them, especially when they try to wriggle out of them, with no explanation.
Coate Water is a country park, with its views of the downs, but it is within walking distance of local estates. We know from the size of the petition against the previous planning application (more than 30,000) that it is very popular with local people. It was also voted as the town’s most popular place by Swindon Advertiser readers.
It is the height of philistinism for the Council to propose this change to the plan; more so given Fionulla Foley’s angry response to criticism, that they were only trying to protect Coate Water! Building close to it is a strange way of doing that.
Swindon TUC organised the meeting at which the Save Coate campaign was originally launched. So it’s no surprise that we continue to oppose ‘development’ in the area, and we call on the Council to abandon its ‘preferred option’.
These days the public are very cynical about politicians, as a result of bitter experience. The Council should abandon its ‘preferred option’ because it is wrong. They should also consider this. If they are seen to flagrantly abandon their 51st promise, why should local people ever believe a word they say? They should stick to Rod Bluh’s clear commitment and abandon this proposal.
Secretary, Swindon TUC
Comments of the Council’s proposals have to be received by no later than 4.30 p.m. on May 12th by:
Forward Planning Group, Freepost SCE5251, Swindon Borough Council, Premier House, Station Rd, Swindon SN1 1TZ
For more information visit: http://jefferiesland.blogspot.com