Forward Swindon — repackaging failure?

On the same day that the University of the West of England announced it had ditched plans to build a university in Swindon, thereby knocking yet another hole in the masterplan for Swindon town centre regeneration, the council’s fantasist leader Mr Bluh was busy burying his head in the sand.

2010 will see us kicking off out of the recession because of the resilience we have here in Swindon.

The only resilience I see is in Mr Bluh’s habit of throwing our money at vanity projects.

[I]n 2009 we had one of the best years in getting the name of the Swindon known better around the country — getting rid of the speed cameras, the Radio One weekend; the wi-fi launch which attracted interest from around the world and, of course, our twinning with Disneyworld.

Let’s not forget that the council has admitted that the claimed £2M benefits from almost £½M splurged on the Radio 1 Big Weekend are partly speculation rather than fact. Let’s not forget that the almost £½M spent on wifi is on companies with minimal track record and whose project is already behind schedule. Let’s also not forget that Mr Bluh and Swindon Borough Council had no part in the Disney twinning — the once source of sustained good publicity.

So why — apart from naïvety and arrogance — is Mr Bluh so optimistic? Apparently because he’s throwing yet another £1M of our money at a replacement for the New Swindon Company. As was announced back in January, the old company and parts of the council are to be replaced by a new company, now to be named Forward Swindon*.

If Forward Swindon is to bring about the long promised regeneration, it’ll need to be considerably more successful than its predecessor — and significantly more careful with our money than its council masters. With little money available in current economic conditions, small steps rather than grand plans would be in order. Swindon needs a town centre that serves the needs of its population, rather than one that serves the ego of legacy-seeking political masters.

* Just a holding site for the moment, but registered in the name of the New Swindon Company’s Ms Ashdown.

The losing attractions

The Adver has reported the outcome of the council’s Pride of Place poll, launched in October. The attraction of which people are most proud is Coate Water. What is perhaps more revealing is just how few votes some of the other ‘attractions’ got. The results in full:

Given the question (Which attraction are you most proud of? ‘If you had just one day… where you’d take a visitor’ rather than ‘Which attraction is your favourite?’) it’s probably not surprising that the two leisure centres didn’t do too well: whatever their merits, the two centres are definitely showing their age and have been surpassed by similar facilities in other towns. Similarly for the Wyvern, which was still shut when voting started. However for STEAM museum to come below a roundabout, a hilltop and what is, though an attractive park, nevertheless just an urban park, says little for the museum.

Did the poll succeed in the objective of making me feel connected with my council? Not really, especially as the most popular attraction was one that the council was intent on surrounding with concrete.