Thursday, March 12, 2009

Write to the Secretary of State

The Planning Inquiry is now over and we can only await the Planning Inspector's report and his recommendations for the Secretary of State. The report is likely to appear in 7-12 weeks time. The decision will then rest with Hazel Blears. It is believed that she can take as long as she likes to make a decision as to whether planning permission should be granted for the Coate development proposals.

It would be helpful if the general public write to Ms Blears in an attempt to persuade her that the potential loss of this jewel in Swindon's crown (and give your reasons why you think that this is so) is too big a price to pay for some remote and unrealistic chance that Swindon might gain a university presence. If you heard the loopholes in the conditions that were proposed by the developers for handing over land to a university, you can be assured of one thing - we will get another housing estate and office blocks to gaze upon from Coate Water and from Liddington Hill should planning permission be granted, whilst pigs-might-fly with regard to a hospital extension or university campus. If the University of Bath could not make a go of the offer from the developers, why should the University of the West of England believe that they can do better?

So it is now time to put pen to paper again and write to:

Hazel Blears
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

E-mail address:

Do make it clear in your letter that you are referring to:

Appeal Refs: A/08/2085605 and 2090316
Land adjacent to Coate Water Country Park, Swindon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Blears

Planning Appeal Refs: A/08/2085605 and 2090316
Land adjacent to Coate Water Country Park, Swindon

The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust has participated in the local planning inquiry related to the afore-mentioned planning appeals lodged by the Swindon Gateway Partnership against non-determination of their planning applications by Swindon Borough Council. The planning inspector, David Richards, is now in the process of writing his report and sending his recommendations to you.

We strongly urge you to refuse the appeal and not to grant planning permission for the proposals. They are the most contentious and environmentally damaging schemes that have come forward in the history of Swindon’s expansion programme. Swindon Borough Council records in its report to its planning committee, dated 11 November 2008, that the planning department has received a total of 4,521 representations opposed to the planning applications and one letter of support. In addition, over 52,000 individuals have signed a petition opposed to the proposals.

Without going into great detail, the current Swindon Borough Local plan policy DS3 was clearly formulated to enable the University of Bath (UoB) to establish a campus on land at Coate. The land-use policy for such a sensitive site would not have come forward and, we believe, should never have got so far in the development plan process, as a result of the “gun-to-the-head” stance of UoB. Policy DS3 calls for the enabling housing allocation and employment land to be closely linked to the university campus site along with a requirement (DS3 b) to establish a university faculty in an unidentified site in the Central Area (that now points to North Star in the emerging Central Area Action Plan and was established in Local Plan policy CA3b) “in addition to the already established Facility at the Oakfield Campus” (that is under lease to the UoB who have since vacated the site).

The University of the West of England (UWE) produced a Business Plan dated October 2008 for a faculty to cater for 1,000 full-time equivalent students intended for a central site location in order to contribute to Swindon’s urban regeneration scheme. In a matter of three months, UWE now claims that it can cater for 11,000 students at a large campus, without the benefit of a business case assessment or national/local support. We are aware that the UoB withdrew from the scheme largely as a result of changes in government funding for tertiary education and disagreements with the national house-builders in the Swindon Gateway Partnership. We fear that, should planning permission be granted, the university campus will not materialise (and we have no confidence that it will) whilst we will have lost an important historic, literary and environmentally important site for the sake of another housing estate and offices that will block the views from Swindon’s favourite place – Coate Water Country Park – and spoil the views from the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Local Plan Inspector recommended in his report dated 2 December 2005 (para 7.7) that the employment land allocation for DS3 should aim “to try to limit the employment development to that which has a link with the university” and in order to compensate for this fettered approach he recommended that “an extra, large site to be allocated at the eastern edge of the town” (para 7.7).

With regard to the housing allocation under policy DS3, the Local Plan Inspector was clear to point out (para 6.2) that “there is no need to allocate the site for housing” (based on the numerical contributions from other sources in 2005) and whilst the appellants have argued that there have been delays in bringing forth other committed sites, there is nothing to suggest that Coate could now be brought forward to meet any requirement in the next 5 years. In view of the extreme sensitivity of the site, detailed planning application considerations will be laborious and lengthy as they have been on other large, but less environmentally sensitive, greenfield sites around Swindon. Mr Fenton (the Local Plan Inspector) recognised this factor in para 6.3 of his report at a time when the UoB proclaimed to be totally committed to developing a campus at Coate and that no other site was acceptable to meet their needs. Mr Fenton pointed to the “linkage between housing development and the facilitating of the UoB’s proposals.”

We can only repeat that the elements of policy DS3 were designed to enable the UoB’s campus model. We have no confidence that UWE can come up with a model that will meet the Higher Education Funding Council’s requirements when UoB was presented with obstacles and other reasons for pulling out of what was, apparently, a sound proposal that appeared to convince virtually everyone that their proposals were viable only a couple of year previously.

Swindon Borough Council’s new direction is to focus on North Star as a site for tertiary education. Swindon can meet its emerging employment land and housing allocations to 2026 without the need to allocate the appeal site land. Please refuse planning permission and keep us informed of your decision.

Thank you.