Swindon housing supply

Today the planning enquiry starts into the planning application from Persimmon and Redrow Homes to build near Coate Water at Commonhead. This is what’s left of the former ‘Swindon Gateway’ project.

With other areas identified for house building — for example Wichelstowe and Tadpole Farm — already having space for many thousands of houses, it is perhaps timely that just two weeks ago the Department of Communities and Local Government published figures for housing supply during the last financial year. For Swindon, the figure for ‘net supply of new dwellings’ is down by 11% compared with the year before. (By comparison, across the whole of south-west England there was no significant change, and for England as a whole there was a decrease of 6%.)

Net housing supply for Swindon
Year 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Dwellings 1710 1550 2260 1940 970 880 780

At the rate of building seen in recent years, land already identified for new building is sufficient to keep the builders going in Swindon for many years. Even if they forecast a recovery in the housing market, for the developers to argue — as they no doubt will — that there is a desperate need for extra land to be released for housing in Swindon is fanciful in the extreme.

Closing the Gateway

With the recent pronouncement that the housing targets of the Regional Spatial Strategy should nolonger be a material planning consideration, the Swindon Gateway Partnership may feel they’ve wasted their money submitting yet another planning application. Like its predecessors, the new application depends heavily on the targets of the Regional Spatial Strategy to justify concreting over much of Commonhead, near Coate Water. Lets hope that the dying Regional Spatial Strategy will take this development proposal with it to the grave.

Now, the developers may, rightly, point out that the development area in the new plan is little more than that identified in the Swindon Borough Council’s Core Strategy. But it is more. The development area in the new application extends slightly further south than the area the council identified for possible development. The developers also want to squeeze 960 little boxes houses into an area the council believes can only accommodate 750. More importantly, the Core Strategy was written to meet the targets in the Regional Spatial Strategy and at the moment is still only in draft. With the Regional Strategy now being hurriedly buried, the Core Strategy’s housing targets should also be seen as immaterial.

Swindon may well need many more houses to be built, but squeezing almost 1000 of them into this particular space at Commonhead is not the way to do it.

Very appealing

You’d think that, with the housing market in the doldrums, the likes of Persimmon Homes would have better things to do with their money than going lodging planning appeals at almost the first opportunity. If a council fails to make a decision within a set time (‘non-determination’ in planning jargon) the planning laws allow six months to appeal. Persimmon have waited just one month to lodge an appeal against Swindon Borough Council’s failure to make a decision on their plans to surround Coate Water with concrete.

Just how many developments in a single town does one developer need in a falling market?

Packing ’em in at Coate

Packing houses in, that is. With even the ever-optimistic Mr Bluh admitting that residential development around Swindon is slowing, you might think that the pressure to concrete over the area around Coate Water might have eased. Not so. The Swindon Gateway Partnership (Persimmon and Redrow) is back with revised plans for 1,550 little boxes houses and a mystery university. It’s good to read that the council don’t intend to let the developers get their way until there’s evidence that the prospect of a university occupying the site is reality rather than fantasy. With public funding of universities stagnating (apart from what looks like a pre-election spending binge during the current financial year) that’s shouldn’t be too soon.