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Village Development Update 23/9/2010

‘I would like to thank the 50 villagers who took part in the continuing exercise to help shape and influence the expansion of the village, held at the South Marston Hotel on the 15th September. The results of the information gathered are being collated, and will be published on line and distributed.

This exercise is part of the campaign to influence what might be built on both the Thornhill and Crown Timber sites, and on the fields between the village and the railway.

Some people are concerned that the approach that the Parish Council is adopting may lead to greater expansion than would otherwise be the case. This is not true. This area is nearly all owned or controlled by developers who are pressing for it to be developed and Swindon Council confirmed that it was available as part of the Eastern Development Area (EDA) last year.

Following this we managed to persuade the Swindon planners that the impact of such a large development on our community would be so great that we should be treated as a special case. They eventually agreed that the village, possibly uniquely, should have its own Supplementary Planning Document (SPD).

The SPD will be prepared by the Swindon planners, but they are keen that it is a ‘village led plan’. What they cannot do is reverse the established Swindon Council policy for expansion, or the identification of the EDA to take the lion’s share of this. As you may have read in the papers, this government is keen to build houses at a faster rate than the last, and so it seems unrealistic to expect the pressure to go away.

The SPD is likely to be published for public consultation in the early Spring of next year. Comments from the public will then be considered by the planners and the final SPD presented to the Borough Planning Committee for adoption. If adopted, the SPD then has legal status and sets the framework and requirements for development.

My personal vision is of community that works as a viable, cohesive whole with the feel of a rural village rather the hard surfaces of Wichelstowe.

The Parish Council is clear that the eventual vision should reflect the views of as many villagers as possible. It is undoubtedly correct that most of us would prefer no development at all, but having spoken with the Swindon Planners, seen the EDA proposals and checked the land ownership and options controlled by the developers, we do not see this as realistic.

We hope to best serve the village by achieving a binding, complete and integrated plan for the whole area. This would include a master plan for the layout and building codes for the house designs. It would incorporate a land transfer or similar to prevent the remaining open spaces from future development, maximise the green spaces both within and outside the built village and prevent further, piecemeal, building.

The planners themselves are coming to grips with a new planning framework that promotes ‘localism’. We are looking to meet with them shortly to better define what that means for both sides and firm up what it means for the village and its SPD.

I know that some people were particularly disheartened by the size of development shown on one of the plans produced at the May meetings. This was based on the original EDA plan that showed 20ha of development. We have made it clear to the Swindon planners that this is not appropriate. They wish to develop rather than swamp the existing community and accept that the strict requirements of the EDA are no longer valid. Provided we remain engaged in the process I am confident that a more acceptable development will emerge.

We hope that as many villagers as possible will continue to give their input as we seek to control development.

Colin McEwen

Background

‘Making South Marston a Great Place to Live’

(If you are already familiar with the issues please skip to Latest Position)

The population of the UK is increasing, its structure is changing (e.g., more single households) and old housing stock needs replacing. These and other drivers led the Labour government to plan the numbers of houses to be built by 2026. The Regional Development Agencies were allocated numbers and set out where they should be built in Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS)  Swindon was allocated 36,000 houses, which was rather more than the 32,000 in its own plans for longer term expansion.

Swindon Borough Council (SBC) was required to develop a Core Strategy setting out how this amount of development could be best delivered and to determine the infrastructure (Schools, transport, flood prevention etc.) that developers must provide (more information). One of the proposals was for 12,000 houses in the Eastern Development Area (EDA). This proposal was published as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which they consulted the public about in 2009.

While all these plans were in the early stages, the Parish Council consulted with the villagers, who indicated that they accepted a degree of expansion and confirmed that the Parish Council should seek to influence it to best advantage. This led to the 2007 Village Strategy. This accepted that natural growth might see another 250 houses, particularly on the old industrial sites on the western edge of the village.

When the EDA SPD was published it included plans for 24 hectares of residential development, to include roads, green spaces etc) to the immediate South of the village, together with a separate community to the South East at Rowborough Farm.

Parish Council actions in 2009

The Parish Council and a number of residents put their detailed views into the public consultation on the EDA expressing concerns about the numbers of houses, poor detail on the infrastructure and inadequate plans about traffic and flooding issues. They also questioned the economic viability of the scheme. Many village residents, and those in other parishes affected by the proposals, expressed strong opposition in principle to the development, and some were surprised that South Marston Parish Council did not join one of these groupings.

Having expressed its strong opposition to aspects of the development; the Parish Council continued to believe that pressure for development in South Marston would not go away, even if the EDA plans in their then form were to fall. The Council decided to continue working with the planners to modify the proposals to bring them more in line with the village strategy under the strap line ‘Making South Marston a Great Place to Live’.

Swindon Borough Council was eventually persuaded that the effects of the proposals on South Marston were so great that we should have our SPD to ensure the integrated development of the village.

The Parish Council decided to obtain professional help beyond that available from the Borough and appointed a planning company, NEW Masterplanning, to assist the village. For their part, the borough recognised the traffic problems of the village and commissioned JMC consultants to prepare a report and recommendations, in the context of the village SPD.

The South Marston PC aimed to pull together the views and ideas of the South Marston residents and Swindon Borough Council to create an agreed strategy for the village that can then be negotiated with the developers who own options over the land.

All SPDs had to conform to the principles set out in the Swindon Core Strategy.

NEW produced a Workbook setting out the main issues facing the village and the Parish Council distributed a paper setting out features that would come with small, medium and larger growth options.

Various local and national politicians made various ‘promises’ prior to the elections and,

Since the General Election

  1. Following the election the new Minister, Eric Pickles, issued an open letter saying that the RSS structure was, effectively, dead. What he did not say was that the number of houses to be built had been reduced, nor that existing plans drawn by Borough Councils were now void.
  2. In May NEW hosted two ‘place making’ evenings, attended by @ 70 villagers. At the first meeting groups set out their priorities and suggested areas for growth .At the second meeting NEW presented 4 plans showing their interpretation of those views, but with increased numbers following indications from SBC’s officials as to what was expected under the EDA proposals.
  3. Because of the general uncertainty the Parish Council arranged a meeting with David Potter, Director of Planning at SBC, and Martin Trewhella, who is overseeing the village SPD at the borough. This was a frank and open conversation. The agreed minutes are at Meeting with Borough 2906. I would particularly refer to the following comments from David Potter:

The RSS no longer existed and so the numbers and timescale targets had gone.

However, the Borough still has to plan strategically and find suitable development sites to meet its predicted housing needs. It would be dangerous to leave a planning vacuum as developers know that there is a need for more housing and would use this argument and the evidence amassed in any appeal  against a rejection of a planning application………….

He accepted that reducing the numbers to be built by 2026 could increase the pressure to build more at South Marston…………

It is very likely that the eastern area, including South Marston would form a 1st phase and so it was important that what was planned for the village was absolutely right. There was also a need to “look over the horizon” when planning for future infrastructure needs. ………

and later:

‘The advantage of agreeing to a substantial development is that this would allow a comprehensive approach to be agreed and the undeveloped land could then be transferred to the village to protect the hinterland from future development.  The alternative was a danger of piecemeal incremental development over a number of years that would erode the rural buffer.’

  1. Following David Potter’s comment that ‘The RSS no longer existed and so the numbers and timescale targets had gone’ the Parish Council questioned the validity of the plans prepared by NEW in the context of the RSS/EDA and presented at the second evening. We agreed that NEW should re-write their draft report to reflect the changed circumstances. The revised report is at Workshop Report.
  2. Villagers who attended the second May meeting may recall the concern that SBC would severely limit the amount of detail that the village could put into the SPD. Following negotiations it has been confirmed that we can look towards putting in our own indicative master plans and, more importantly, design codes.
  3. The Parish Council now invite villagers to a further Place Making meeting at The South Marston Hotel on the 15th September 7.15 for 7.30 to review the work done at the first meeting and the best way forward for the village
  4. The fact that the Parish Council have pulled back from developing their interpretation of the plans does not mean that we will be short of ideas. We will particularly have the following:
    1. The ‘Thought Paper’ distributed in May
    2. The indicative plans and comments produced by NEW:
      1. NEW Plan 1a
      2. NEW Plan 1b
      3. NEW Areas of Agreement and Debate
    3. Principles and indicative plan currently being produced by villager Darren Cook
    4. The idea that what distinguishes a village from a suburb is that ‘a village is a  semi-autonomous community’.
    5. SBC are currently working on a revised Core Strategy. The exact amount and pace of development and the size of the Eastern expansion is being hammered out and we are looking to both understand and influence what this means for the village. Current indications are:
      1. SBC ‘expect’ that the village expansion will extend to 15-20 hectares. Is this all greenfield land?  To what extent does it include roads and green spaces?
      2. The village SPD may be separated out entirely from the EDA SPD. This would simplify things and might mean that we were talking to ‘local’ developers rather than the whole EDA consortium.
      3. There is very limited money available for EDA  infrastructure. This means that the previously proposed links across the A419, and much else, are not viable. The EDA numbers South of the A420 may have to be be reduced, with an corresponding increase in pressure to develop elsewhere in the borough.
      4. The Swindon Core Strategy is likely to be adopted to go out to Public Consultation in January 2011.
      5. The village SPD cannot be adopted and go out for Public Consultation before the Core Strategy

You are also invited to read the NEW Workbook and Village Transport and Traffic Working Paper. Please contribute your thoughts and opinions as ‘comments’ on the blog attached.

Please come along and contribute at the next ‘Place Making’ meeting at the South Marston Hotel at 7.15 for 7.30 on the 15th September.

Colin McEwen

Useful links:

Planning Documents Archive

EDA News

Swindon Borough Council Planning

Latest on the planned housing development – Updated

Note: This article has been significantly updated since the original posting

Since a meeting on 15 October in the village hall, I have become aware of the strength of feeling in the village about the plans to build 12,000 houses in the Eastern Development Area to the South of the village.. Many residents here, and in other parishes affected by the proposals, want to oppose the development. They are surprised that the South Marston parish council is continuing to work with the planners to modify the proposals to bring them more in line with the village strategy, which so many of you helped to create in 2007. Continue reading Latest on the planned housing development – Updated