Swindon Eastern Development Area, from figure three of Swindon’s Core StrategyI first came across the Campaign to Protect Rural England (then known as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, CPRE) as a child living in West Sussex, when they seemed intent on having the majority of the county frozen at some point in an imaginary Victorian past. (They still do.) My impression then was of an organisation of city dwellers and rich commuters that knew little of the countryside and wanted to preserve it as a playground for the rich, regardless of the implications of that for rural communities. (The organisation’s original name included the word ‘preservation’ rather than ‘protection’.)

As someone who has now been a town dweller myself for twenty years, I’m really no different from my description of them, but nevertheless find the comments of the chairman of their North Wiltshire branch on the South West Regional Spatial Strategy still tainted with the same lack of reality. There’s much in what they say about the proposed eastern expansion of Swindon to supply the 36,000 extra houses imposed on us (as described in Swindon Borough Council’s Core Strategy) that I agree with.

There needs to be a major investment in water supplies, sewerage and public transport to support the proposed increase of 36,000 more houses in Swindon and an additional 13,000 new homes in the surrounding areas. Already there are instances of severe sewage overflow; the existing infrastructure cannot cope. It is time the Government listened to our concerns over building in the flood plains, for the protection of Coate Water, and for maintaining the separate identities of Swindon’s neighbouring communities.

There’s nought wrong with any of that. But then they go a bit off track.

Expansion outwards has left a dead centre and a fall in the economy.

To ascribe the problems of the town centre to the growth of the town is bizarre. On that analysis, city centres like Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham should be long dead and feeding the daisies. As the CPRE also say, central Swindon needs regeneration, but that regeneration can never supply the sort of living environment that outward expansion — welcome or not — could.