Sad news from the Swindon Advertiser:
A controversial plan for 900 homes on land neighbouring Coate Water has been given the green light by a Government inspector.
The proposal by Persimmon Homes and Redrow Homes to develop land at Commonhead, off Marlborough Road, was rejected by Swindon Council’s planning committee last year, and more than 50,000 people signed a petition resisting the outline application.
But now the Planning Inspectorate has said the development, which includes 890 homes, a village centre and a primary school, can go ahead.You may say I am biased, because the area around Coate Water is the landscape associated with the Richard Jefferies, the 19th-century essayist and novelist about whom I wrote my Masters dissertation.
But my opposition to this development stems from Swindon's present-day needs too.
I spent a few days in the town in the summer of 2009 and found it an extraordinary place. The centre was not there, Where it should have been were vacant plots shuttered off by hoardings. Here and there rusty buddleia spikes poked over the top.
Notices told you what was demolished to clear the sites – here the town’s police station, there its post office –and an artist has decorated the hoardings with fragments of Swindon’s history and with letter professing love for the town from remarkably forgiving schoolchildren.
I gather that the regeneration company charged with redeveloping the town centre had gone bust halfway through the process. It's like the trick with the watch, the handkerchief and the hammer: it's much more impressive if you finish it by restoring the intact watch to its owner.
Meanwhile, the suburbs of Swindon were spreading at alarming speed. Through Twitter I had been invited to lunch by friends who lived in a village that, for the time being, was just outside the town. I armed myself with the latest street map that W.H. Smith's could furnish and followed my bus journey.
Roundabouts that were little more than tight buds on the map had grown limbs in the form of streets with names and houses, but I was doing OK until the bus gathered itself and then sprang across a bridge that should not have been there.
If ever a town needed some open country near its centre it is Swindon. The Advertiser quotes the council's Labour leader as saying that it would not have been able to resist development at Coate for ever. But why was the area ever earmarked for housebuilding in the council’s draft Core Strategy?
Meanwhile the developer pratttles that his "New Heritage Collection of detached family homes will be a real asset to the Swindon area," and the heart sinks.