The art of consultation

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.