What sort of town should Swindon be?

Reading through the political yabooery over the University of the West of England’s plans (such as they are) for a campus in Swindon, the argument — when it isn’t descending into petty jibes — seems to be not just about whether there should be a university in Swindon, but about what sort of town Swindon should be.

Mr Buckland’s concern that the plans are sketchy is reasonable enough. His point that “Great Universities don’t just appear, they evolve.” is also worth remembering amidst the University of the West of England’s hype for its plans. It’s disappointing, though wholly in character, that in response the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove feels the need to go for a cheap political jibe about Mr Buckland not being a local (though coming from Wokingham, she’s clearly not a local herself).

Where Mr Buckland’s argument goes astray, in my view, is in his attempts to defend, repeatedly, Mr Tomlinson’s view that having a larger student population in Swindon is a bad thing. Yes there will be an impact on the availability of low-cost housing, but his arguments go beyond that.

Having lived in a small city (Swansea) with a large student population, I well know the often baleful effects that too much student housing can have on a neighbourhood. Noise, rubbish and a deserted feeling during holidays cause real problems for long standing local residents…. I can tell you that local residents had their lives made a misery by noise, rubbish and poorly maintained homes of multiple occupation in their midst. If that’s what you want for Swindon, then be honest about it.

That’s not what anybody would want. It’s not what a university initially targeting the local market and adult learners is likely to produce. And as Mr Buckland admits, his comparisons exaggerate the problems Swindon could face.

Swansea now has two Universities and over 20,000 students, so actually the comparison is misleading.

So don’t make the comparison!

Any large employer that develops — regardless of whether it’s a university, car manufacturer, insurance company, or railway works — changes the nature of the population in the surrounding area. The changes are rarely welcome. Communities are never static, changing with the circumstances that surround them. If the politicians want a university, which it seems that they all, except for Mr Tomlinson, they have to accept the changes — bad as well as good — that may bring.

I’ll end this rather rambling piece with a quote from Mr Leakey

Swindon has always been a town built and expanded simply because of it’s one great asset and draw over the years – work. That’s the main reason most of the people of this town have come here since the railway works started the ball rolling back in the 1840s. It’s not and never has been a centre for high class shopping, culture, history or any of the other things many other towns and cities have to offer…. It’s an honest to goodness practical and working town, Swindon should stick to doing what Swindon always has and still does best – employment.

If there is to be a university in Swindon, let it be one focused clearly on supporting Swindon’s wider employment potential, rather than its own wellbeing and the more esoteric aspects of learning.

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