Sunday, August 12, 2007

Letter of objection to new planning applications

Mr Ian Halsall
Planning Department
Swindon Borough Council
Premier House
Station Road
Swindon SN1 1TZ

Objection to outline planning applications SO7\1688 & SO7\1689 – Swindon Gateway proposal for land at Coate.

Dear Mr Halsall

I wish to lodge a formal objection to the outline planning applications submitted by Persimmon Homes and Redrow Homes to build 1,800 houses, a university campus including accommodation for students, offices and community facilities on countryside at Coate and Badbury Wick.

Whilst I appreciate that land at Coate has been allocated in the Swindon Local Plan for mixed use development incorporating a university campus, the policy was drawn up to meet the needs of the University of Bath who are no longer interested in developing the site. As no new university partner has come forward, it is premature to consider the planning application given that the elements of the proposals must relate to each other and cannot proceed until the requirements of any future university partner, if any, are met. Currently, the planning applications conflict with Swindon Local Plan policy DS3 and should be refused planning permission.

The planning applications also conflict with many other requirements of policy DS3.

The rural views out of Coate Water Country Park have not been respected – offering glimpses of countryside between the buildings is not in the spirit of the policy.

The height and layout of buildings do not respect the views from the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, particularly those in the business park, and do not provide a soft urban edge to Swindon.

The provision of at least 60 hectares of land for a university campus has not been met (DS3a) – there is barely 44 hectares of land set aside for a campus. The land allocated for the university campus falls within the area that Natural England believe should be protected and enhanced to secure the conservation value of Coate Water Site of Special Scientific Interest. The proposed buildings next to Coate Water nature reserve are too close, too concentrated and too high.

Whilst the policy calls for the provision of up to 1800 houses, this was conditional on there being sufficient land suitable and available for development. This is clearly not the case given that a buffer of at least 300m is required at the north- east boundary of Coate Water to protect the rural setting of the Country Park and archaeological features whilst the old landfill site is also proposed for house-building contrary to government planning guidance.

The setting of the listed buildings in the area has not been considered. These include the Richard Jefferies Museum, Day House Farm and the milestone along the old Coate lane – all have Grade II listing and their rural setting is also important given the context of their importance to Richard Jefferies’ writing. Indeed, there has been no environmental impact assessment of the proposals on the literary landscape value of Jefferies Land – a unique feature in Swindon that has been grossly under-rated by both the borough council and the developers.

The transport infrastructure is inadequate to cope with the increased traffic that would pour out onto Marlborough Road. The residents of Coate should not be forced to live on a plot of land that acts as a roundabout.

The underpass at Coate roundabout regularly floods – the sewage infrastructure is already inadequate whilst any increase in flow in the Dorcan Brook and the River Cole will increase flooding incidents elsewhere. Day House Lane is regularly flooded as are the fields to the south-east of Coate Water.

This area of Swindon is very special to me and should be protected at all costs. With the pressures on Swindon to get bigger, this last remnant of local countryside next to Coate Water, along with its historic and literary connections with Coate-born writer Richard Jefferies and the varied extensive archaeology dating back to the early Bronze Age, is even more valuable as an educational and recreational facility than ever before.

The buffer proposed around the Country Park, is insufficient to protect and enhance the wildlife interest of the Coate Water Site of Special Scientific Interest and the rural landscape setting of the park. It is too narrow to be of any value and there is no indication that building work will be delayed for several years until after newly created habitats have had an opportunity to mature. In some places there is no buffer proposed – merely a row of trees that will ultimately block out the treasured views from Coate Water across to Liddington Hill and the Downs.

The scale, nature and location of the different elements of the proposed development will reduce wildlife movement, drastically reduce feeding areas and habitats for protected species such as hares, badgers, bats, otters and endangered birds both within and outside the nature reserves. Human intrusion and predation from household pets could further destroy the wildlife value of the area forever.

The impact of the buildings on the landscape will be indescribably awful and totally unacceptable. The new hospital – one kilometre from Coate Water - has been a good marker to show just how badly a modern building can ruin the views from the Downs and Coate Water.

The university campus should be located in the town centre near the railway station as originally proposed. There is already provision to build thousands more houses whilst empty industrial units and offices litter the Borough. We don't need more.

Coate Water is my favourite place in Swindon. Its value to the town is beyond price. Please refuse planning permission and protect this area for future generations to enjoy as much as I have.

Please keep me informed about any decision that is taken.

Yours sincerely

Monday, July 16, 2007

New policies suggested to protect Jefferies Land.

Swindon Friends of the Earth, the Richard Jefferies Society, the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust and the Swindon Civic Trust have written to Swindon Borough Council's Forward Planning team asking them to consider the following changes to the next Swindon Local Development Framework Plan :

- a focus on North Star as the favoured site for tertiary education as proposed in the deposit draft Swindon Local Plan 2011 along with other town centre sites.

- the reinstatement of the former Thamesdown/Swindon Borough Council Local Plan policies and Wiltshire Structure Plan policy that afforded protection and enhancement of the high and unique landscape value of the countryside in the foothills of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that stretches to Coate Water Country Park, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Burderop Wood Local Nature Reserve and which includes Day House Copse Local Nature Reserve. As such it would be necessary to re-evaluate the area that might be developed without harm to the environment and to allow for some hospital expansion.

- a new policy that seeks to protect and enhance the landscape setting of Coate Farm that houses the Jefferies Museum and other features associated with the world class nature and countryside writer, Richard Jefferies.

The letter continues:

The emerging Regional Spatial Strategy for the South-West offers this observation for the forward planning of Swindon to 2026: "the town has aspirations to establish a university". (paragraph 4.2.26) There is no further reference to making provision for a university in the Swindon strategy. Given that the University of Bath has dropped all proposals to provide a major campus at Coate or a medical research facility at Commonhead and whilst the Higher Education Funding Council of England is no longer supporting grants to establish new out-of-town campus-style educational facilities, the time is ripe to re-visit the planning policies for the Coate area that were only introduced to satisfy the needs of the University of Bath. As such, the emerging Framework Plan for Swindon should focus the town’s tertiary education needs at North Star and the town centre as part of the regeneration programme.

There is a considerable amount of new evidence related to the Coate area since both the Examination in Public of the Wiltshire and Swindon Structure Plan 2016 and the Public Inquiry of the Swindon Borough Local Plan 2011 took place. The area, that was thought to be suitable for development at the time by some, is far more heavily constrained by environmental and historic assets than previously recognised whilst environmental considerations such as the presence of unstable contaminated land and potential flood areas have been brushed aside. The archaeological study alone has revealed major constraints to development, unknown previously, that must now be protected. Further evidence has emerged to show that the ecological studies carried out on behalf of the developers were flawed and unreliable suggesting that the precautionary buffer of 0.5km to protect Coate Water SSSI, as proposed by Natural England (formerly English Nature), is more realistic. Furthermore, planners have demonstrated no appreciation of the importance of the unique literary landscape quality of the area and have failed to undertake any study that might shed light on the matter. If they had done so, they might understand why Richard Jefferies, particularly in his position as a pioneer environmentalist, is one of Swindon’s greatest assets and why the landscape that inspired Jefferies’ writing is of significant literary importance.

As such we believe that the Coate/Badbury Wick/Burderop area, that just escaped official national designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (as part of the North Wessex Downs) in the 1970s, should be re-designated as a Landscape Character Area subject to a policy of protection and enhancement that would require any permitted development to be in keeping with the historic setting of the landscape. Land that might be excluded from the policy might be evaluated in order to allow for some expansion of the hospital.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) was born at Coate Farm and lived at Coate for the best part of his first 28 years. In his short writing career, he wrote over 20 books and hundreds of essays and articles, many of them heavily influenced by his years of living in a farming community at Coate. Coate Farm was purchased by Swindon Corporation in 1926. Since that positive act of preservation 81 years ago, it is unfortunate that the Corporation's successors have made many unsympathetic changes to the property that include selling off meadow to the Sun Inn to extend their car-park, building a large “shed” in the same meadow (Brook Field) that was intended for use as an agricultural museum, reducing the size of the orchards and front garden for road widening, pulling down the thatched cow-sheds and thatched rick-shed, and replacing the thatch on the cart-house with an asbestos roof. A public outcry in the 1970s stopped the council from pulling down the pig-sties and barn. It was as a result of a national appeal by Sir John Betjeman, Spike Milligan, Johnny Morris and other national figures who helped the Richard Jefferies Society raise money for repairs, that the buildings were saved from demolition.

The Jefferies Museum attracts visitors from all around the world. This year alone there have been visitors from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France drawn there because of their admiration for Jefferies’ writing. Visitors are thrilled that they can still see so many natural and man-made features in the area that Jefferies clearly identified and described in his books, albeit that he used fictitious place names. The development pressures on Swindon make Jefferies’ home vulnerable. Any further degradation of the property or of the setting of the Grade II listed building must not be permitted in order to allow future generations the opportunity to appreciate this literary heritage site. As such, we request that a policy is introduced in the Framework Plan that recognises the importance of the Jefferies house at Coate and ensures that it is preserved and enhanced.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Treading in the footsteps of Richard Jefferies’ Coate

The Richard Jefferies Society and the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust are joining forces with the public on Sunday 3rd June to celebrate places around Coate that the Victorian naturalist and countryside writer highlighted in his books written about 130 years ago.

Guided by Mark Daniel, now in his 80’s and living in Brighton, there will be a walk around Coate Water illustrated by readings from Bevis – a boy’s adventure story based around Jefferies’ old Coate farmhouse and Coate Water. The event starts at 11am, meeting next to the Coate Water Rangers’ centre in the car park at Coate Water.

The tour will end in the gardens of Jefferies’ House and Museum where a picnic is planned at lunchtime. Refreshments will be provided and participants are invited to bring their own snacks.

Marissa & Steve Rouse’s 'Romanska School of World Dance' will put on a creative show for visitors in the garden during the lunch break. 'The Battle of Coate’ is a dance piece dealing with the current development plans at Coate. Characters include the Giant Albion, Richard Jefferies, the Lady of the Lake in her Coate of Water, Councillor Money Bags, Urban Sprawl and Concrete Box.

A new leaflet of the Coate walk has been produced for the occasion funded by the National Lottery’s Awards for All grant. The leaflet (see enclosure) is available at the Coate Water Rangers Centre and at the Jefferies’ Museum.

Mark Daniel, member of the Richard Jefferies Society and author of the leaflet, said:

“I first discovered Bevis when I was about twelve. The story tells of the adventures of two boys for whom the exciting possibilities of their world are just dawning. It is no namby-pamby life either. Adventures include living on an island on Coate Water, mock battles with Coate village lads and swimming, fishing and sailing on the lake. It was a great joy to visit Coate as an adult and find that many of the places mentioned in Jefferies’ books are still there bringing the writing alive to generations of readers. But how much longer will this be the case if Coate is swamped with more development?”

Steve Rouse, member of the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust said:

“I was incensed when I learnt the scale of the building plans next to Coate Water that would destroy a beauty spot that I hold dear. I wanted to use my performing skills to highlight the battle to save Coate. With the help of young dancers, we plan to recount the tale”.

The museum is open to visitors on Sunday from 2-5pm. The event is free and suitable for all ages. Contact Jean Saunders on 01793 783040 for more information.

Friday, March 02, 2007


On 1st March 2007 the University of Bath announced that they were pulling out for good from the Coate development proposals. The so-called Swindon Gateway plan earmarked two square kilometres of countryside to the east and south of Coate Water Country Park for a campus, 1800 houses and offices. The university cite two main reasons for the decision: an inability to arrive at an agreement with Persimmon Homes and Redrow Homes who were offering them free land for a campus and a change in government funding preferences for higher education.

The truth of the matter is that building works are highly constrained by the existence of multiple environmental assets at Coate and Badbury Wick whilst a recent archaeological study has revealed that there are even more “no go” areas than previously detected. As a result, the house-builders were putting a squeeze on the land they first allocated to the university and even this was on the most ecologically sensitive area surrounding Coate Water nature reserve.

Despite the university’s announcement, the house builders state that they intend to submit a new planning application around May and hope to start building their housing and office estate in 2008. They say that they would leave an area for a campus even though they know that no other university wants the land.

The Save Coate! battle is not yet won. Swindon Borough Council has stated most emphatically – NO UNIVERSITY – NO HOUSES. But Redrow and Persimmon Homes will try every trick in the book to push through their proposal.

30,000 people have signed a petition asking for a substantial buffer of countryside to be left around Coate Water to protect its national designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, to protect its wildlife and to safeguard the views to and from Liddington Hill and the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Moreover it is a landscape treasured by Victorian nature writer, Richard Jefferies (1848-87) born at Coate, who drew inspiration from it.

The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust seeks to acquire the proposed development area, particularly around Coate Water, in order to enhance the nature reserve and to keep Coate Water as a COUNTRY park.


- Sign the Save Coate! petition at the link.

- Write to Mrs Vivien O’Connell, Planning Department, Swindon Borough Council, Premier House, Station Road SN1 1TZ stating why you object to development next to Coate Water Country Park.

- Write to the Leader of SBC, Councillor Roderick Bluh at the Civic Offices, Euclid Street SN1 2JH supporting his stance of NO UNIVERSITY- NO HOUSES.

- Join the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust