Rejected… for now

It shows how well Swindon Borough Council presented their case that, on appeal, the Swindon Gateway Partnership’s application to concrete over the area surrounding Coate Water has been rejected following the planning inspector’s recommendations. This will no doubt bring on a certain amount of celebration by the campaigners that fought against the development. Any such celebration is misplaced.

The decision is quite clear about why the application was rejected. It’s also clear about which objections weren’t important. Most of the campaigners’ objections are in that latter group. In summary, the reasons why the development was rejected were:

  • impact on the views from Coate Water park, particularly towards Liddington Hill;
  • insufficient gap between the development and the eastern side of Coate Water park;
  • lack of confidence that the area on the site identified for a university would actually be developed as such;
  • detrimental influence on town centre regeneration that building offices and a university on the edge of town would have;
  • insufficient guarantees to ensure that the offices would be used as a science park linked to the university;
  • constraints on future expansion of the Great Western Hospital.

Objections that were not upheld were:

  • flood risk;
  • impact on views of Coate Water from Liddington Hill;
  • impact on wildlife;
  • proximity to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;
  • protection of archaeological heritage;
  • literary associations with Richard Jeffries.

From that list it can be seen that most of the campaigners’ objections were cast aside, whereas the objections from Swindon Borough Council — so often criticised by the campaigners — were upheld.

There’s one other feature of this decision that seems to have been overlooked by those celebrating the rejection of the application. That’s the support in principle from the inspector and minister for housing development on the site.

The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that… the appeal proposals have the potential to deliver high quality housing,… make a meaningful contribution to identified housing needs and are in a suitable location in principle for an urban extension. He gives significant weight to this factor.

He has given considerable positive weight to the contribution the proposal would make to easing the identified shortfall of housing in Swindon, including the provision of affordable housing. However, the Secretary of State considers that this needs to be set against other factors including the proposal’s failure to use land effectively and efficiently, due to its excessive land take in respect of the university campus.

In other words, a revised application, with houses in place of a university, may well succeed. The fight for the area around Coate Water is far from over.