A letter to the Swindon Advertiser
In 2006 Rod Bluh made a public commitment on that the Council would not support a planning application for housing in the Coate area if it was not associated with the building of a University. However, when he reneged on this commitment he argued that development in the area was inevitable, so the Council supported a change in the local plan to allow house building.
At the time the town faced pressure as a result of the Regional Spatial Strategy which imposed a target of more than 30,000 houses on the town. The Conservative group said that, under these circumstances, they could not just say no to development in the Coate area.
However, today they cannot blame the central government for imposing a housing target on the town. The RSS and housing targets have been abandoned. There is no pressure on the local authority to build housing numbers at a level which is against the wishes of the local authority and the local population.
So it seems curious that the Council has not taken account of the ending of the RSS when determining its attitude towards this latest planning application. There is no pressure on it to accept the application because there is no housing target. You would have thought that the Conservative authority would have made much more of their government’s ending of RSS and housing targets. Perhaps their failure to talk up their government policy is because to do so would make a nonsense of their attitude towards this planning application.
Why are they in favour of it? Mr Greenhaugh told the Advertiser that the application “will protect the character of Coate Water and should prevent building between this land and Coate itself”. However, it’s not at all clear how building towards Coate water would protect it from more building. What guarantees can Mr Greenhaugh give?
When the decision was made to build the new PFI hospital at Commonhead, local people were told that it would not be used as a precedent for further building. This promise was quickly forgotten when the ‘developers’ offered land free to a University.
Why should Mr Greenhaugh’s word be trusted? In practice the more building which is allowed in the area the more likely further building is. The fact is that there is no need for the Council to support this application.
The campaign against ‘development’ at Coate has received an unprecedented level of support. The tenacity of the campaign has not simply been the result of the efforts of a few people. It has been voted the town’s most loved facility time and time again.
Without this campaign development of some sort would have gone ahead long before. The demand of the campaign was ‘Keep Coate a country park’. It’s whole ambience is that of a country park, where you can escape the concrete of the town, and look at the views across to Liddington Hill. You are in the country even though it is just over the road from Parks estate.
Instead of offering spurious arguments about building which will ‘protect the park’ the Council should bow to local opinion, which has produced an unprecedented support for the campaign, and abandon its support for the planning application. Coate should remain a country park, rather than being slowly encircled by building. Exerience in Swindon and elsewhere suggests that rather than ‘protecting the special nature of Coate’ acceptance of this planning application would be a further step towards slowly encircling Coate Water with building. It would represent an act of the worst philistinism.
January 5th 2011