Tag: squeeze

Union Square aMusements

A brighter business location… eventually.I almost felt sorry for Mr Hitchings of Forward Swindon on Saturday, as he tried — with little success — to convince those attending a consultation display at the Central Library, that Muse’s Union Square development was an all-round good thing. There’s really no effective argument one can make against those — and there were several — that are adamant that any development is pointless because “People just don’t want to come to Swindon, they go to Bath.” Nor is there any easy compromise between those that believe there’s no point starting the development now whilst the economy is in a slump — “Just look at those shops they’ve just built. Over half of them are empty. What’s the point of building more?” — and those that can’t see the point of a development that won’t be finished for fifteen years. Trying to convince those that couldn’t and wouldn’t envisage a Swindon any different from how it is now was a pointless task, and I think Mr Hitchings knew that.

Concrete dressed as goldFor once I found myself relatively impressed by what is planned, and I was not alone in that, though amongst those visiting the exhibition I appeared to be in a small minority. But to my mind there were two things that let down a good outline plan for the development. The first, as already noted by Mr Wakefield, is the hype. Not for the first time, what is nothing more than a development that could be found in many other towns is being touted as mould breaking.

An exceptional town centre regeneration scheme contributing to the renaissance of Swindon

Renaissance? These are plans for offices, not a cultural centre.

Union Square has regeneration at its heart and will provide a vibrant and genuine extension to the town centre.

I have diminishing hopes that one day I might read a developer’s brochure that doesn’t describe their bog-standard plans as ‘vibrant’. And if anyone can tell me what a fake extension to the town centre would be like, I’d be delighted to know.

The other point of concern are the plans for Phase 1 which will occupy the space where the police station once stood.

This first phase of the masterplan will deliver 84 supported housing units, a new high quality multi-storey car park (850 spaces) and space for either a relocated Primary Care Trust or a new office or hotel development.

Oh wow! Yet more flats and another hotel. Just how ‘vibrant’ is that? It must have taken a lot of imagination to come up with that plan. I can imagine it already. The Swindon Renaissance Hotel, serving genuine meals at Vibrant, its stylish carvery and grill….

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.

Ripped up

With work on Thomas HomesSmith’s Quarter development resumed, it’s sad to see the majority of what was left of the traverser in the former GWR works ripped up. All that remains is the bare minimum that is needed to serve STEAM museum.
GWR traverser tracks ripped up.

A bridge too far: an essay in little boxes part 24

Now I appreciate that both the planning and bridge building processes can be slow and lengthy, especially judging by how long it has taken for Blackhorse Bridge to be reconstructed. Housing development at the moment is even slower. House building on Swindon’s front garden has slowed so much recently — with little likelihood of it picking-up in the immediate future — that the developers are accepting a financial prop from the state. In those circumstances, the recent outline planning application by Arup to build a bridge over the railway line at Southleaze seems a little premature.

Outline application for the construction of a footbridge over the railway line to facilitate pedestrian access between Wichelstowe and housing/ employment areas to the west of Swindon.

The nearest employment areas in West Swindon are two miles from the westernmost extremity of East Wichel. I’m fully in favour of encouraging a healthy commute, but I suspect it will be many years before this bridge earns its keep. In the intervening period, all it’s likely to do is open up Southleaze to further vandalism.

State development

It was reported this week that not only is what little redevelopment that’s happening in the town centre being funded by us via the state, but also that building in Swindon’s front garden is also being bankrolled by public funding. Now I don’t mind, too much, the tarting up of Swindon town centre being paid for by our taxes. If the regeneration of Swindon town centre hadn’t stalled it would have been paid for through levies on developers which, ultimately, gets passed on to those that buy the properties and then to those that use them, i.e. the local population. Either way, it’s taxation at the behest of local government.

Unwanted in East Wichel? Photo © komadoriRather more objectionable is use of our money to build houses that aren’t wanted locally and now seemingly aren’t wanted by anyone else either. For decades central government has prevented most local councils from spending money from council house sales on building new houses. They still do. Yet now central government’s throwing money at housing developers, to the tune of almost £50,000 per house built in the case of the Swindon scheme.

If our money is going to be spent concreting over the local countryside, I’d rather us locals had a say in where and when it’s done.

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.

East Wichel up close: an essay in little boxes part 23

Victoriana with a barnRecently I went for a wander along the recently built streets of East Wichel. Despite the intentions of the developers to make it look ‘vibrant’, the main impression is of row upon row of terraced housing; little Victorian-style boxes which, although all different, look drab and monotonous. The only thing to break the monotony are the barn-like blocks of flats: they just look out-of-place.

I’ve also been in receipt of some sales spin from one of the developers.

[T]he town has been inhabited since at least the Saxon times, evolving from a small market town with the arrival of the industrial revolution into the thriving residential and commercial centre that it is today.

Let’s just forget the damage that the current — thriving even — recession has done, shall we?

For sheer variety, Swindon’s extensive range of amenities is hard to beat.

The copy writer must have lead a very sheltered life.

From the quirkiness of the Old Town to the more contemporary retail parks and a designer outlet, shoppers are exceptionally well catered for, with numerous cafes, bar and restaurants to choose from.

No mention there of shops nor of the town centre. Lots of well fed ‘shoppers’ with nothing to buy then. They’ve thought of that though: they have a fitness plan.

In addition to a cinema and arts centre, the town boasts two leisure centres and a golf course.

Just two leisure centres? What’s happened to the other eight?

[T]he ideal base from which to explore many of the museums and historic places of interest which enrich the region.

And what about Swindon’s own museums and historic places? Aahhmmoops!

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.