Tag: development control

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.

Yet another pub for East Wichel?

It’s less than a month since Swindon Borough Council granted planning permission for Marston’s Inns to build a pub-restaurant near the Croft Road entrance to East Wichel — on Langdean Road between Blackhorse Way and Frogden Road. Councillors criticised that application saying “it wouldn’t win any architectural awards”.

Now Mitchells & Butlers have submitted a planning application for a site almost opposite — on the stub of Croft Road that leads to a veterinary clinic — to build a Toby Carvery. The application refers to the new draft National Planning Policy Framework, saying that as the local plan is, in their view, out-of-date the application should be allowed — despite appearing to contravene almost every planning policy the council has. And although the application acknowledges that

The site is considered to constitute a free standing gateway site to the Witchelstowe (sic) development

the application almost entirely ignores the Wichelstowe design code:

[B]eing situated beyond the boundary of Witchelstowe (sic) it is beyond the remit of the Design Code….Materials and features have been specified to reflect some of the guidance within the Design Code, whilst retaining an appropriate degree of separation.

It’ obvious from the drawings that actually very little effort has been put into the design at all. Imagine an unadorned prefabricated concrete box, and you’ll have a fairly accurate idea of what this building will look like. In comparison with this, Marston’s planning application was positively imaginative.

Toby Carvery ugly pub

Anyone wishing to comment on or object to the application must do so by 29 September. Comments and objections can be submitted online.

Garry Perkins burns his Priory Vale visa

Mr Perkins is not renowned for engaging many brain cells before opening his mouth, but in his latest outburst he might just, unwittingly, have stumbled through a nuance of planning law.

Swindon Borough Council has been busily splashing the cash from a renegotiation of Priory Vale’s ‘Haydon 3’ planing obligation — commonly known as a S106 agreement — around the borough, with little if any regard for its impact on the new housing development. According to Mr Perkins, there’s nothing wrong with that.

We’ve got to look at the town as a whole rather than individual areas. It’s for the use for the good of the people of Swindon, of which Haydon 3 area residents are part. You don’t need passports to go to Old Town because you’re from north Swindon. It’s the same town.

At first, it would seem that Mr Perkins — although he’s the council cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration — is unfamiliar with the relevant planning laws. Section 122 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 states:

  1. This regulation applies where a relevant determination is made which results in planning permission being granted for development.
  2. A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is—
    1. necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;
    2. directly related to the development; and
    3. fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.

In other words, it’s illegal to use S106 money for something that isn’t directly related to the housing development the money came from. If a council were to use the money in that way, the developer that was forced to stump up the money could reasonably demand their money back, leaving the council taxpayers to foot the bill for whatever the money had been squandered on.

The critical point here is that the money now being spent is not from a Section 106 agreement, it is from a renegotiation of that agreement. So although it would be illegal for the council to insist before planning permission was granted that the Haydon 3 developers pay for something irrelevant to Priory Vale — such as facilities in Dorcan — it’s within the law to do so now after planning permission was granted.

The occupants of Abbey Meads may quite reasonably feel aggrieved that the money to be spent in support of where they live has diminished from £18.6M to just £700,000 but unfortunately for them — and anyone else living in a new housing development — the council appear to have found a way around the legislation that’s intended to protect them.

Pulling a fast-one on takeaways

It seems that Mr Heenan has taken the political silly season to heart. It difficult to see any other explanation for his apparent sudden disliking for takeaways.

Mr Heenan has been involved in development control , having been on Swindon Borough Council’s Planning Committee — more recently as committee chairman — since he was in his political nappies. He would be aware, one would hope, of the contents of his council’s Core Strategy, which requires local retail centres in all new developments to be in close proximity to other community facilities. In particular, if you look at any of the maps for new developments around Swindon in Part 4 of the strategy, you will see that each one has the ‘local centre’ and primary school located together. Any retail development outside of the the local centre is strongly discouraged by the strategy.

Yet now, Mr Heenan has proposed that fast-food takeaways be banned within ¼ mile of any school, as a ‘contribution’ to reducing child obesity. So you wouldn’t be able to open a takeaway anywhere outside of a local centre, nor within ¼ mile of a school, yet all new local centres would be within ¼ mile of a school.

Now komadori is only a very occasional eater of takeaways — about once per month — but they are an essential part of of any local community centre, along with a small general store, a pub and, quite often, a hairdressers. If there was evidence to support Mr Heenan’s ideas, perhaps it would be reasonable, but there is no hint of evidence in the agenda for the meeting at which Mr Heenan proposed this idea. And if takeaways should be banned, then what about general stores that sell sweets to children? And what about all those parents that drive their children to school — why not ban petrol station shops from selling junk food as well, in case the parents stop-off on the way and buy their kids something unhealthy? If Mr Heenan’s really concerned about children’s health, why not ban parking and waiting near schools, so that all children have to walk to school? All of these suggestions would be regarded by some as ridiculous, yet all could have just as big an effect on children’s health.

Mr Heenan’s proposal is bereft of logic. To me this looks no more than a quick-fried policy, cooked-up in a hurry and quickly served to grab some summer headlines.

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.


Whilst looking through the current crop of planning applications, having perused the application to build 210 houses near Lydiard Park which is causing some concern locally, my attention was drawn to a somewhat more remote application. In fact not just remote, but positively out-of-the-way.

Comwood (London) Ltd have applied to build twenty affordable houses at Langton Park. That’s up the hill from Wroughton, near to one of the side entrances to Wroughton Airfield. It’s quite some hill and for pedestrians or pedal cyclists the climb from Wroughton is not for the faint hearted — fine if you’re reasonably healthy, but not otherwise. Naturally, the architects take a rather more positive view of things.

The guidance document also outlines that cycling can replace car trips up to 5km. The proposed development site offers good cycle links to local amenities and employment in Wroughton. Footways are present along most lengths of the private roads surrounding the site, although there are no signed cycle routes. However, the roads are relatively wide and are lightly trafficked, which is ideal for pedestrians and cyclists.

So that’s not specifically a cycle link at all, just an ordinary road. And the roads are only ‘relatively wide and lightly trafficked’ within the Thorney Park, Langton Park and Alexandra Park areas. Head towards Wroughton from Thorney Park or Langton Park and the roads are much narrower and without footways.

The nearest post office (Wroughton Sub-Post Office) being some 2.3km (1.4 miles) distant, can be reached in approximately 12 minutes, assuming a cycling speed of 12km (7.5mph)…. Account has also to be been taken of the topography, which is downhill heading towards Wroughton. The topography may or may not dissuade some potential cycle users.

May or may not dissuade? As an occasional recreational cycle ride, fine. As a regular commute to the ‘employment in Wroughton’, a hard slog up Prior’s Hill is not what I’d want after a hard day’s work. Correspondence on the application suggests that Swindon Borough Council’s planning department are no more convinced than I am.

Both the Langton Park and Grange Park proposed developments are outwith the boundaries specified in planning policy for development. Sadly, the developers’ inventiveness in reinterpreting those policies knows no such bounds.

Spatial squabbling

Both the blue and red nests seem to be keen to blame t’other side for proposals to build 3000 houses to the west of Swindon. The government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, would have us believe that it’s all the fault of the blues.

Under current proposals Tory run Wiltshire County Council plan to build 3,000 new homes neighbouring West Swindon…. The Regional Spatial Strategy that sets out housing numbers for each local authority area was drafted by the Tory controlled Regional Assembly (now known as the South West Leaders Council).

Naturally, her opponent lays the blame on the reds.

Yesterday, Labour bizarrely criticised the Conservatives for the Regional Spatial Strategy, which has led to plans for 3,000 houses next to West Swindon. But only four months ago, Labour’s South Swindon MP strongly supported the RSS, saying, “it lays out important manageable growth figures for Swindon”.

As is so often the case in politics, all are suffering from selective memory loss.

The Regional Spatial Strategy is a consequence of the planning legislation introduced by the current government (red). The housing targets in it were set by the government (red). The strategy itself was produced by the South West Regional Assembly, now known as South West Councils (both blue). This is a document that seems to aim to solve the housing problems of rural Devon and Cornwall by building in the corner of the region that is furthest from those two counties — 34,000 houses were to be built in Swindon. Not satisfied with this distortion, the government (red) added another 2000 houses to Swindon’s allocation plus another 1000 in North Wiltshire in ‘urban extensions’ to Swindon.

Where to put those 37,000 houses? The Regional Spatial Strategy identified a large area to the east of Swindon, the Eastern Development Area. Swindon Borough Council (blue) in the first draft of their Core Strategy identified a number of other ‘areas of search’ where there could be significant development. One was at Tadpole lane. It also suggested where the urban extensions in North Wiltshire added by the government should be: near Ridgeway Farm and Moredon Bridge. Neighbouring North Wiltshire District Council (varying hues) objected to Swindon making plans beyond its border.

Now Wiltshire Council (blue, successor to North Wiltshire District and Wiltshire County Councils) is consulting on its own Core Strategy. It allocates land near Swindon’s western border for 3000 houses. In doing so it follows where the Government’s development strategy, the South West Regional Spatial Strategy and Swindon Core Strategy have lead.

With that provenance, neither main party is innocent in the conversion of Swindon into a suburban sprawl.

All bluster but no objection

The Adver reports that at tonight’s meeting of Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee, Mr Wright made ‘fierce objections’ to the application to build a hotel in Aylesbury Street but also reports that the application was ‘accepted with no oppositions’.

So that’s lots of bluster but, when it really mattered, no vote to record the objections of the people he represents. One could be forgiven for thinking that he’s attempted to get some favourable local publicity by making all that noise, whilst trying to keep his political masters happy by not actually attempting to block a commercial development.

Discouraging response

I’ve spent much time recently completing my comments on Swindon Borough Council’s Core Strategy. It was pleasing to see that many comments on the earlier draft seemed have been taken into account.

Whilst the council’s officials may be responsive to the comments they receive on their strategies, there seems to have been little effort to make it easy to submit those comments. The online response form remains as poor as last time. And unlike last time where any means, within reason, of submitting comments was accepted, for this final stage of consultation only comments on the official forms were accepted. Unlike a printable form, where one can see what’s coming next, with this online form that’s not possible. So just copying the words from the printable form onto the online form — which is what’s been done in this case — doesn’t work. It was a case of filling in one screen of the form, moving onto the next screen, only to find it asking for something I’d put on the previous screen, resulting in lots of clicking back-and-forth to cut-and-paste material into the right section of the form.

It’s also noticeable that in all their consultations, Swindon Borough Council’s Forward Planning Group give little publicity until the final round of consultation. So in the earlier rounds — where the planning rules allow people to have real influence — there are few comments, with many of those that might have something to say unaware until the final stage where the rules are very restrictive. And the Adver played along with an almost continuous dripdrip of stories based on this version of the Core Strategy, but was almost silent during the earlier rounds, even though the proposals now highlighted were in previous versions of the strategy. It’s good that they’ve covered the story, just unfortunate that they left it so late.

Finally, two predictions for the next round of the process, examination of the strategy by a planning inspector. The first is that the Save Coate campaigners will try to make it a one-topic examination, in much the same way as the New Mechanics Institute did with the Central Area Action Plan. The second is that, like them, they’ll again be unsuccessful.

Yet another hotel proposal

Oddest Victorian terrace I’ve ever seen.I know that the hotel business is said to be one of the few that is still doing well in the current poor economic conditions, but does Swindon town centre really need another 118 hotel rooms? That’s in addition to the 134 Holiday Inn Express and 229 Jurys Inn rooms opened in recent years. I ask because a planning application has just been submitted to convert the former Paragon Laundry on Aylesbury Street into a 118 room hotel. The application is full of the usual developer drivel about designing something that fits in with the local surroundings, even when the drawings show that it does no such thing. To quote from the design statement,

The massing of the proposed buildings relates not only to the immediate context but the wider Town Centre context.

In other words, the height of the hotel would completely dwarf nearby buildings: even the relatively new flats on Wellington Street are not as tall.

The middle and tall part of the building has been broken up into four main sections that correspond to the Victorian “rythm” (sic) of terraced houses.

If anyone can find nearby some six storey Victorian terraces without any doors and virtually no windows at ground floor level, I’d be very surprised.

The hotel will have only 14 car-parking places, apparently with agreement of council officers. The plan also says that ‘Public parking provision will be increased along Aylesbury Street’, that ‘In agreement with SBC, a drop off bay is proposed on Station Road’ but then contradictorily ‘the proposed redevelopment… will have no impact on the operation of the adjacent highway network.’ Given the frequent traffic queues in Station Road outside the proposed development, that seems highly unlikely.

The documents and drawings that accompany the proposal show it branded as a Hamptons hotel, part of the Hilton chain, though the status of their involvement is unclear from the application.

As yet another developer jumps on the hotel-building bandwagon, it’s difficult not to believe that in a few years time Swindon will have as big a surplus of hotel rooms as it currently has of flats apartments for rent.