Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear David Cameron

I write as the Honorary Secretary of two charities: the Richard Jefferies Society and the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust.
You were interviewed on Countryfile by John Craven and you gave an assurance that no greenfield land would be built on where the following applied:

1. Special interest – historic, landscape, cultural

2. Local people opposed

3. Local authority opposed

4. Other sites available

You are obviously not aware of building proposals that were granted permission earlier this year by your Secretary of State for a development that ticked all these requirements. These apply to a planned housing estate and industrial site at Coate and Badbury Wick that lies in the foothills of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the south east of Swindon and very close to Coate Water Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is rich in ecology, archaeology, and was immortalised and made famous by the Victorian nature writer, Richard Jefferies whose birthplace abuts the development site and is now a museum. The planning application was opposed by over 52,000 people who signed a petition, Robert Buckland MP and the conservative led planning committee. Other sites are available to meet Swindon’s 5 year land supply of housing depending on what targets are agreed.

On page 32 of the Church Times (14 December 2012) there is an interview with Candida Lycett Green – author, broadcaster, journalist and Sir John Betjeman’s daughter. The questions asked of her cover a considerable amount of ground but her clear passion for the Downs near to where she lives at Uffington, Oxfordshire and her love of old buildings and England’s countryside reveal how she follows in her father’s footsteps. In response to changing one thing in England, Ms Lycett Green said that she would “stop the present Government making a balls-up of the planning system ... They will be the Government to go down in history as wrecking England”. And her anger is directed at “greedy developers’ building on Richard Jefferies’s sacred Greenfield landscape outside Swindon”.   There is also an article by Candida Lycett Green in the January 2013 edition of the Countryfile magazine. She writes a heartfelt plea about what has happened to Swindon, and in particular how no one has taken any notice of the Richard Jefferies Society regarding development on Jefferies Land at Coate. She states that David Cameron says that he will defend his beautiful part of Oxfordshire against the builders, and then she compares this to the fate of Swindon (her nearest big town), where countless developments have covered the town, and in spite of many in-fill sites available how Redrow Homes are set to build on the only decent historical/literary area of land in the town at Coate.

I realise that you are powerless to reverse a planning decision and your Secretary of State has not made an unlawful decision. However, the decision is wrong and has created bitter resentment in Swindon, not to say total disillusionment with your government’s commitment to protect important greenfield sites whilst bringing in a National Planning Policy Framework that makes it easier to build anywhere.

 We are now faced with a draft Swindon Borough Local Plan 2026 that has a policy in place that permits the planned development at Coate whilst providing a non-development buffer for some of the countryside of landscape, ecological, archaeological and cultural importance. However the building plans will set a precedent for more infill and the plan only runs to 2026 – just time for Redrow Homes and Persimmon Homes to lobby for infill development on the grounds that it will be more sustainable to build next to their existing estate.  

 There are many thousands of people who will never forgive this government for what has happened at Coate.
Yours sincerely
Jean Saunders

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