The outline plans for concreting over the area around Coate Water have now been formally submitted to Swindon Borough Council. Anyone wishing to look at and comment on the plans can do so here and here.
I was, perhaps, a little premature in my suggestions of amnesia amongst our local councillors. Yesterday’s Adver carries a story about ongoing discussions between Swindon Borough Council and universities, but about a town centre campus, not a Coate Water campus. ‘Story’ is quite an apt description in this case. The leading paragraph suggests that discussions are well developed.
PLANS for a town centre university are in the pipeline and the University of the West of England is believed to be the top choice to meet Swindon’s higher education needs.
The quote from The University of the West of England* is considerably more guarded.
UWE, along with other universities has been involved in preliminary discussions with Swindon Council to which no outcome has yet been reached.
That reads like nothing more than ‘maybe’ to me. The figurative pipeline in the newspaper story could be very long.
*Mind that initial ‘The’. It’s in their legal title and they can get very picky about it.
We have been having discussions with various universities, but this is about what is best for Swindon not what is best for developers.
And quoted today, less then four weeks later.
Before a university can be brought to Swindon there would have to be discussions with the council and MPs and as far as I know there hasn’t. We have certainly not been party to any discussions about a university and the developers should certainly be pushed on who this university is.
That looks like a bad case of amnesia to me.
Council leader Rod Bluh, said he could not reveal the identities of the universities as talks were ongoing but that he remained optimistic a deal could be struck. He said: “We have spoken to one or two universities, but investment is far from certain at this stage.”
Wow! So many! I’m impressed!
“This is a great example of cross party politics working at its best. I have already been working closely with Michael Wills on this and Ann Snelgrove is also concerned about exactly the same issues,” said Coun Bluh. Speaking in Parliament on Friday, South Swindon MP Mrs Snelgrove said she was concerned about the delay.
If this is cross party politics at its best, I hope we never see it at its worst.
This morning I went to the Swindon Gateway Partnership’s display of their new plans for the area to the east of Coate Water. They are a great improvement on the previous plans. That does not make them good. To quote the developers’ consultants.
Sarah Smith, associate director of DPDS, said: “Essentially what’s changed is we have taken on board the local planning inspector’s comments about the views into and out of Coate Water Country Park. Therefore we have looked at moving the university site further south to remove some of the higher buildings out of these views. We have increased the buffer zone to the special site of scientific interest by about 40 per cent.
That’s all very well and is an improvement on their earlier plans. However, in place of the university at the northern end of the site there will now be a residential area… right up close to the northern arm of Coate Water. That’s the part of Coate Water that has the most visitors. There’s no buffer zone there. And at upto 5 storeys tall (according to Ms Smith this morning), even with a wider buffer zone, the university buildings are not going to be hidden out-of-sight. The possibility of imposing lower limits on those university buildings nearest Coate Water was considered but discounted by the developers (or in Ms Smith’s words “It’s in the plans’ environmental statement.”).
The overall impression from the display was of some fairly uncaring developers (they can afford to be — Swindon Borough Council is on their side). Ms Smith’s colleague was like a record stuck in a groove, repeating “it complies with national standards” in response to every concern raised (noise from adjoining main roads; provision of utilities; density of housing; impact on road congestion…). I’m sure that is true, but on its own it does not win many friends.
Given how unpopular the original plans to concrete over the land surrounding Coate Water were, you’d think that, once the University of Bath decided to abandon their plans for a campus in Swindon, the council would allow the idea to quietly die. Not a at all. Seems they want to go ahead anyway, regardless of whether there’s a university interested. Political genius.
It’s nice to see that my local MP has such a good grasp of a significant issue in her constituency. According to the local newspaper, she said
Alan [Johnson, Education Secretary] echoed my disappointment and Michael Wills’ disappointment, and of course the council’s, that the university is not coming here and has decided to pull out.
And I think he explained his scepticism that the university is quoting the Stern report on climate change as the reason why it should not come here.
Err… climate change affecting university development? Not quite. In fact, nowhere near. Neither of the University of Bath’s recent press releases mention climate change nor the Stern Report. They do mention
the Government’s priorities for the future development of higher education are shifting towards increased opportunities for study whilst in the workplace.
as set out in a letter to HEFCE from Alan Johnson and the government commissioned Leitch Review of Skills. But nothing to do with climate change (except for the political hot air quoted here).
Mr Wills said he was very disappointed. “It’s a great shame that the town has gone so far in trying to accommodate the University of Bath,” he said.
“It’s a real blow that without any real notice to anyone in the town that they have pulled the plug on the project. This raises significant questions about other projects in the town and the region.”
One organisation has cancelled its plans owing, it says, to a change in government policy, and suddenly all other major developments are in doubt… not just in Swindon but across the south west. ’Tis a bit like claiming that, as it rained today, there is a serious risk that we will never see the sun again.
In 2001, a report to Swindon Borough Council concluded that an area near the town centre called North Star should be developed as a university campus as part of Swindon’s regeneration programme. The Swindon Urban Regeneration Company was set-up the following year, with the University of Bath having a seat on it’s board. The plan was for the site to accomodate 1,000 students along with accomodation. Then a change of heart led to the University of Bath wanting a more traditional campus, and a site near one of Swindon’s main leisure areas, Coate Water, was selected. There was much local opposition, as the plans (paid for through major housing development on the site) would encroach on the currently open landscape. As a consequence of a change in government policy (towards more workplace learning) and of the housing developers wanting too much of the site, the university has changed it’s mind, again. Now Swindon College is offering to share their campus at North Star with the University of Bath. So we are back where we were six years ago.